Review: Lyric’s ‘Young Frankenstein’ yields frantic fun

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Atlanta Lyric Theatre's musical "Young Frankenstein" features Googie Uterhardt (left) and Austin Tijerina. PHOTO CREDIT: Cayce Callaway

BY BERT OSBORNE

For the AJC

As a bit of icing on the cake, as it were, Atlanta Lyric Theatre’s production of the Mel Brooks musical “Young Frankenstein” is shrewdly well-timed for the Halloween season.

Atlanta Lyric Theatre's musical

Atlanta Lyric Theatre’s musical “Young Frankenstein” features Googie Uterhardt (left) and Austin Tijerina. PHOTO CREDIT: Cayce Callaway

It’s based on Brooks’ beloved 1974 Hollywood hit, of course, so there’s no spoiler alert needed to mention that it’s a parody of 1930s horror movies, or that its characters include a deranged mad scientist and a ghoulish reanimated corpse. It’s campy, first and foremost, but artistic director Brandt Blocker’s Lyric staging utilizes smoke machines, strobe lights and other special effects to create a suitably spooky Transylvanian atmosphere for the show.

Fortunately, the Lyric’s “Young Frankenstein” (scripted by Brooks and Thomas Meehan) is well-timed in the more usual musical-comedy sense, too. Most of the farcical one-liners and double entendres are sharply mined and pitched by a predominantly polished ensemble of performers, who also handle the broad physical shtick and many running gags with an agile aplomb.

In over a dozen splashy singing-and-dancing routines (songs by Brooks, with one tip of the top hat to Cole Porter), Blocker’s co-stars and chorus are equally adept at delivering a lot of tongue-twisting lyrics and maintaining the show’s up-tempo beat — under the vocal direction of Paul Tate and the music direction of B.J. Brown (using a prerecorded instrumental track, alas), and featuring lively choreography by Ricardo Aponte and Jennifer Smiles.

Googie Uterhardt (left) and Blake Burgess appear in the Atlanta Lyric Theatre musical

Googie Uterhardt (left) and Blake Burgess appear in the Atlanta Lyric Theatre musical “Young Frankenstein.” PHOTO CREDIT: Cayce Callaway

Few actors in town can bring a smile to your face as quickly and effortlessly as the indomitable Googie Uterhardt. After a zany fashion, as the young Doctor Frankenstein, he’s essentially the straight man of the piece. That isn’t to suggest he doesn’t delight in ample opportunities to break loose and shine (musically and comedically), but there is an element of relative control and composure to the role, whereas most of the supporting players get to go at it with absolute abandon.

The standouts among them: Mary Nye Bennett is a hoot as his teasing fiancee, Elizabeth, and her musical numbers (“Please Don’t Touch Me” and “Surprise”) are highlights; Alison Brannon Wilhoit sweetly plays Inga, his curvaceous lab assistant (who yodels nicely, to boot, in her “Roll in the Hay” solo); and the spunky Austin Tijerina amuses as his hunchback sidekick, Igor.

Less agreeable and more ill-advised is the jokey casting of one “Marti Melle Lindstrom” as the creepy housekeeper, Frau Blucher. (Paging Marcie Millard, who was last seen playing Miss Hannigan in the Lyric’s “Annie”…) Never mind that her “He Vas My Boyfriend” song is a singularly misguided low point in Brooks’ score, as if it had been intended for the Marlene Dietrich-inspired character of Lili Von Shtupp from his other classic movie comedy, “Blazing Saddles.”

The rented scenery and costumes are credited to their original Broadway designers (Robin Wagner and William Ivey Long, respectively), while the stylish hair and wigs are designed by Atlanta’s own George Deavours.

Some minor complaints aside, in the end it’s almost scary how much fun the show is.

THEATER REVIEW

“Young Frankenstein”

Grade: B

Through Nov. 8. 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays; 2 p.m. Saturday (Nov. 7 only). $38-$58. Jennie T. Anderson Theater (at the Cobb Civic Center), 548 S. Marietta Parkway, Marietta. 404-377-9948, www.atlantalyrictheatre.com.

Bottom line: Silly is as silly does.


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