Young Frankenstein at Toby’s Dinner Theatre

TheatreBloom rating:

If you’re blue— and don’t know where to go— why don’t you go where theatre’s fine?

See Young Frankenstein!

Different songs to really please the ear— dancing feet to watch and you’ll cheer— it’s sublime!

See Young Frankenstein!

Dressed up like a million-dollar trooper! Trying hard to look like Gary Cooper— it’s SUPERDUPER!

You won’t get to see a better show— and Columbia is the place to go— take their word and mine!

See Young Frankenstein!’

Puttin’ on the ritz and pullin’ out all the stops Toby’s Dinner Theatre of Columbia is bringing you the regional professional premiere of Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein, that adorable madcap musical based upon his zany-in-the-brainy musical that just won’t quit! You’ll laugh! You’ll laugh some more! You’ll laugh so hard you might just need stitches to sew your busted gut back together! A positively perfect feel-good musical designed to chase away the winter blues, Young Frankenstein, Directed and Choreographed by Mark Minnick, is all the rage this winter season!

The production values of this show in particular are worth noting, not only because of their creativity and impressive existence, but because of how well they gel together to create one cohesive, fluidly-moving performance. It is rare, when it comes to a musical, that Sound Designers do something impressive enough to stand out above all of the music happening in the show. But Young Frankenstein is a show whose sound design plays a critical component in the functionality and ultimately the humor of the tale’s existence. Sound Designer Corey Brown does an exceptional job of timing essential effects— zaps and jolts inside the laboratory, braying and whinnying cries of the horses at the mention of a certain character’s name, just to mention a few— to sync perfectly with the action on stage. Brown’s effective design work syncs flawlessly with Lighting Designer David A. Hopkins’ use of various illuminating effects. The drop bulbs over the main stage to brighten the laboratory are the perfect touch to that spooky atmosphere.

Jeffrey Shankle (left) as Dr. Frederick Frankenstein and Louisa Tringali (right) as Inga
Jeffrey Shankle (left) as Dr. Frederick Frankenstein and Louisa Tringali (right) as Inga Jeri Tidwell Photography

Hopkins, who also serves as the show’s Scenic Designer, creates a spooky atmosphere all about Transylvania, with the wrought-iron town gate, and doubles up the creepiness for the castle and laboratory interior. Working with Properties Master Amy Kaplan, the pair create a series of extraordinarily unsettling set pieces that give Doctor Frankenstein’s lab that ghoulishly uneasy atmosphere, perfect for the reanimation of dead tissue, and other hilarious hijinks. Hopkins is clever, well-versed in how to utilize the intimate space of Toby’s— making exceptional use of the rotating elevated turn-walls to achieve tremendous special effects, both with the ‘secret-passageway-bookcase’ and the transformation of simple wall portrait to living ghost— taking care to strategically make the best use of what’s already there to keep scenic transitions flowing smoothly.

While the costumes are rented, Costume Coordinator Tommy Malek and Wig Designer Jayson Kueberth ensure the perfect look and fit for every individual in the cast. The costumes are well worthy of praise for how stunning they look and how effortlessly they are transitioned. Specialty costumes are featured on various members of the ensemble who have to make quick changes— often on stage mid-song— and the effect of these various pieces is quite striking. Flipping instantly from black mourning garb to sprightly gay village fatigues, these costumes are truly the bees knees, and it’s thanks to Malek that each ensemble Kuberth’s wig designs are impressive as well, especially when it comes to the multitude of changes featured among the ensemble.

Director Mark Minnick’s vast working knowledge of Toby’s intimate space serves the production tenfold. In addition to having a keen understanding of how to block scenes in the round, Minnick maximizes the hilarious impact this comedic show has on the audience by playing up the spatial ratio of characters to theatergoers. Encouraging the performers to fully express their emotions and reactions with full body language and animated facial features, Minnick extracts the most out of the performance for the audience, a nuance that would easily be lost in a bigger, proscenium venue.

In addition to working the space with a fine-tuned finesse, Minnick showcases his seasoned directorial vision by pushing the comedy of the show in earnest. The jokes are funny and land naturally, without carrying the weight of contrivance or feeling forced out of the actors’ mouths. There is an organic essence that permeates the production’s general existence, creating side-splitting laughter all throughout the bawdy and brass musical. Playing to his actors’ strengths, Minnick encourages natural chemistry and interactions between everyone on stage, ultimately resulting in a hilarious and earnest romp of a good time.

Justin Calhoun (center left) as Victor Frankenstein with Jeffrey Shankle (center right) as Dr. Frederick Frankenstein and the Lab Babes
Justin Calhoun (center left) as Victor Frankenstein with Jeffrey Shankle (center right) as Dr. Frederick Frankenstein and the Lab Babes Jeri Tidwell Photography

The triumvirate of the show, excelling in blocking, championing in natural comedy, and utterly slaying when it comes to his choreographic skillset, Minnick triumphantly turns the production into a very impressive dance show as well. The bigger numbers— like “Transylvania Mania” and “The Happiest Town in Town” are lively and filled with movement— while much attention and detail is giving to the two-person numbers, like “Together Again” and the initial start of “Please Don’t Touch Me.” Showcasing a plethora of style, Minnick plays to his ensemble’s strengths and uses a lot of group circular moves, which aligns well with the musical style of the number in addition to being aesthetically pleasing. The stop-your-heart tap feature during “Puttin’ on the Ritz”— which includes monster-feet tap-shoes no easy feat by far— and ultimately culminates in a tremendous Kickline which runs the length of the stage, is a true highlight among the other impressive routines Minnick infuses throughout the show.

Musical Director Ross Scott Rawlings deserves praise by the score for all of his astonishing harmonization. This is best featured during “Welcome to Transylvania” featuring ‘The Quartet’ (Gregory Banks, Justin Calhoun, Ariel Messeca, Andrew Overton) and a fifth in the deep base range (added superbly by Inspector Kemp, played by David Bosley-Reynolds.) Rawlings’ blending here— and all throughout the show— of harmonies is second to none, focusing on the subtle nuances crafted into the script by Mel Brooks. In addition to harmonizing, Rawlings creates riveting sounds from the ensemble, particularly during “Life, Life.” In a creative stroke of genius, Rawlings’ ensemble is strategically placed on-stage (a visionary concept of Minnick’s, wherein the ensemble returns as the dead ancestors from “Join the Family Business” to vocally augment Frederick’s moment of transition from doubter to doer, bringing the notion of support-from-the-beyond into full visual play) to enhance this spine-tingling musical moment, ultimately giving the audience thrilling chills.

Justin Calhoun (left) as Victor Frankenstein, Christopher Kabara (center) as The Monster and Jeffrey Shankle (left) as Dr. Frederick Frankenstein
Justin Calhoun (left) as Victor Frankenstein, Christopher Kabara (center) as The Monster and Jeffrey Shankle (left) as Dr. Frederick Frankenstein Jeri Tidwell Photography

The ensemble itself is loaded with impressive talent, all of whom fit flawlessly into the grand scheme of things. Every individual serves their purpose, each member on stage finds a unique niche for their character— and characters as all of the ensemble doubles and triples and occasionally quadruples up throughout the show. The aforementioned Transylvania quartet are featured as prized soloists during the intro to “The Brain”, wherein Messeca, Banks, and Overton showcase their pristine tenor tones and their ability to sustain them. Justin Calhoun, also of the quartet but more notably praiseworthy for other roles, gets to put his vocal chops to the test when he takes up the guise of great dead ancestor Victor Frankenstein. With his bombing voice, bold stage presence, and unabashed liveliness, Calhoun transfixes the Frederick character with astonished fear (just look at the facial expressions actor Jeffrey Shankle gives in response to Calhoun’s sudden appearance and subsequent song), masterfully charging this song to its heightened potential.

Calhoun, who may be in a showdown with actor Robert Biedermann 125 for “who plays the most characters throughout the show” is also featured in the insane entourage that accompanies Elizabeth Benning upon her arrival to Transylvania. Featuring MaryKate Brouillet, the aforementioned Calhoun, Elizabeth Rayca, Coby Kay Callahan, and Andrew Overton (playing Masha, Sasha, Tasha, Basha, and Bob, respectively), the entourage adds layers of delectable hilarity to the number “Surprise”, with Rayca reprising this character for the shockingly transformative ending that the Elizabeth Benning character undergoes near the show’s end.

Robert Biedermann 125 (left) as The Hermit and Christopher Kabara (right) as The Monster
Robert Biedermann 125 (left) as The Hermit and Christopher Kabara (right) as The Monster Jeri Tidwell Photography

Robert Biedermann 125, playing at least as many roles as Calhoun, is only going to be remembered for his show-stealing moment as the Hermit. Pitiable, pathetic, and vocally puny at the start of “Please Send Me Someone”, Biedermann runs away with the show in a hilariously honest fashion, bursting into a belt midway through the song as it reaches its natural climax. Fully into the character, Biedermann is defies comedic description when it comes to this character, and ultimately is a screaming hoot— for all of his incarnations throughout the show— as this desperate, lonely, Hermit.

David Bosley-Reynolds (right) as Inspector Kemp and the Villagers of Transylvania
David Bosley-Reynolds (right) as Inspector Kemp and the Villagers of Transylvania Jeri Tidwell Photography

Tying the bundle of character actors together is their unified capability to create unique voices for their varying tracks. And although David Bosley-Reynolds only ever plays Inspector Kemp, his accent is among the most notable. Grumbly, brusque, and thickly foreign to the point of well-establishing his presence in Transylvania, Bosley-Reynolds adapts to his rigid inspector character as if he were built into it. Fully committing to the absurd physicality of the robotic official, in addition to the voice, he adds extraordinary moments of laughter to scenes that involve The Village Idiot (called Ziggy and played brilliantly with great comedic timing by David Singleton) and the quartet.

Also of noteworthy accent is Frau Blücher *neigh-whinny-whinny* played by Tess Rohan. With an unwavering accent that is belted clearly through “He Vas My Boyfriend”, there is an imposing fear that Rohan strikes into both the character and the song, which makes those horses (played in their cart scene by Gregory Banks and Brook Urquhart) have perfect reason to cry out every time her name is uttered. Rohan has an impressive belt, particularly with her lower-range vocals, and crafts the character with an eccentric amount of facial expressions and body language, not usually applied to the stalwart stone Frau. That said, Rohan makes Frau Blücher *neigh-whinny-whinny* her own incarnation, and the vocal payoff alone is worth the watching.

Alicia Osborn (center) as Elizabeth Benning
Alicia Osborn (center) as Elizabeth Benning Jeri Tidwell Photography

Larger than life in personality and vocal panache, Elizabeth Benning (Alicia Osborn) is sharp, sassy, and smart. Osborn isn’t afraid to strut her sexuality around, as it’s all but tattooed into the character’s countenance. With pipes that pack a punch, Osborn really lays out “Surprise” with gusto. Her opening number, “Please Don’t Touch Me” is as funny as it is fabulous— featuring a series of insanely sustained belts that showcase her vocal control and command sublimely. The wild chemistry that smolders between Osborn’s character and certain…other characters (for not to spoil major plot points!) is as fiery as that red dress she wears early on.

Christopher Kabara (left) as The Monster and Jeffrey Shankle (right) as Dr. Frederick Frankenstein
Christopher Kabara (left) as The Monster and Jeffrey Shankle (right) as Dr. Frederick Frankenstein Jeri Tidwell Photography

What’s green, about seven feet tall, and absolutely astonishing? Christopher Kabara as The Monster in this production of Young Frankenstein. He’s mastered the walk, the talk, the facial expressions, Kabara is the exacting fit to what you’d expect Frankenstein’s monster to be. Watch his expressions closely as they’re uproarious— especially during “Puttin’ on the Ritz” when Igor decides to steal his thunder! Kabara, possessed not only of a stellar ability to create this character, has a mellow voice well-suited for The Monster’s one and only solo, “Deep Love (Reprise.)” A delight, not a fright, Kabara is truly the man about town in this production.

Jeffrey Shankle (left) as Dr. Frederick Frankenstein and Louisa Tringali (right) as Inga
Jeffrey Shankle (left) as Dr. Frederick Frankenstein and Louisa Tringali (right) as Inga Jeri Tidwell Photography

With pristine pitch, Louisa Tringali is Inga incarnate. Again mastering the accent with ease and great consistency, Tringali brings a bubbly, boisterous liveliness to the character that simply cannot be denied. She’s very high spirited and appropriately robust when it comes to singing. With an effortless ease she yodels her way through “Roll in the Hay”— the entire scene is beyond words with hilarity between all the cart-bouncing, innuendo, horses, and of course her yodeling— and puts her subtle seductive claws into “Listen to Your Heart” with a vigorous vibrancy that is intoxicating. The coy and flirtatious chemistry that she develops with Frederick throughout the production feels natural and melds well into the overall verve of the show.

Jeffrey Shankle (left) as Dr. Frederick Frankenstein and David James (right) as Igor
Jeffrey Shankle (left) as Dr. Frederick Frankenstein and David James (right) as Igor Jeri Tidwell Photography

Together again for the first time— and about the 10,000th time over the years— Jeffrey Shankle and David James are squared off in a toe-to-toe race for front-fella funnyman. Playing Frankenstein and Igor respectively, the dynamic duo are unbeatable in this hands-down, gut-busting, laugh-so-hard-you’ll-cry showdown of organic, undiluted humor. These two classically seasoned comedians tickle the fancies of everyone in the audience with their natural camaraderie, their cheeky banter, their witty repartee, and their fantastical footwork. Watching them share “Together Again” is a true vaudevillian delight, both in their singing style and their dance movements. From the moment they meet through to the show’s end, their high-octane chemistry— all done in the greatest of comedic veins— is infectiously contagious, driving and motivating the rest of the show along at a deliriously enjoyable pace.

David James as Igor in Young Frankenstein
David James as Igor in Young Frankenstein Jeri Tidwell Photography

James is the textbook definition of character shtick in this role of Igor. With a pronounced physicality that will give you cramps just watching him, and a boundless source of spry energy that exhausts you just to follow him all over the stage with your eyes, you’re guaranteed a laugh-a-minute with his Igor character. The vocal affectation is spot on, the comic timing is spot on, and the level to which he pushes the character— ever teetering on the border of over-the-top and caricature to keep the audience dizzy with hilarity— is perfect. His “Transylvania Mania” showcases his vocal prowess while the rest of the show gives his funny routine a chance to stretch its limbs. A true comedian, James is the monster’s moan in this show when it comes to handling funny.

Jeffrey Shankle as Dr. Frederick Frankenstein in Young Frankenstein
Jeffrey Shankle as Dr. Frederick Frankenstein in Young Frankenstein Jeri Tidwell Photography

As for Shankle, dishing right back every funny bit served to him, there is an unbelievable rawness to the humor and silliness he finds in the character. With just a shade of Gene Wilder, a hint of Roger Bart, and the rest his own invention, Shankle’s Frederick Frankenstein is pure theatrical genius. In addition to having a strong and stunning tenor sound— especially during “Life, Life” and “Man About Town”— Shankle has pinched a nasal affection to the speaking voice of Frederick, finding exacting moments to make it useful for maximum hilarity. His enunciation and articulation are second to none in this production, making his solo “The Brain” perfectly understood so that all of the subtler jokes can land to the audience in this rapid-paced patter number. Shankle rules the show with unparalleled facial expressions, which is saying something considering how invested everyone else’s animated facial outputs are, and his overall earnest, forward presence on stage is refreshing in this type of role.

Embrace the unexpected and let the fates advise— a stunning, cunning, wonderful surprise— Young Frankenstein at Toby’s Dinner Theatre is the right way to start off the new year. Get your tickets quickly for a fantastical evening of fun, and don’t wait as they’re booking up quickly!

Running Time: 2 hours and 30 minutes with one intermission

Young Frankenstein plays through March 11, 2018 at Toby’s the Dinner Theatre of Columbia— 5900 Symphony Woods Road in Columbia, MD. For tickets please call (410) 730-8311 or purchase them online.

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