Young Frankenstein is a classic, and a favorite of mine. It’s a silly, slapstick adventure with a real heart, and I’ve always held it close to mine. Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder are like peanut butter and jelly, and the combination thereof an absolute gold mine for comedy and film. Though it was exciting to hear that the new Lake Forest Theatre was bringing this classic to life in its inaugural production, we wondered if they were up to the task or would leave us longing. They were, and the cast brought this much beloved tale to life with great care and passion despite some surrounding issues.
On arrival at the John and Nancy Hughes Theatre, we felt we had reason to worry. While Steve Malone’s theater company is simply using the space, there was still no staff to speak of as the curtain dropped on the 3pm matinee, leaving us looking for programs and wondering who to seek out to take our tickets and provide information. The set, though later serving the show well from a design standpoint, seemed oddly amateurish in its construction, and as the show began, sound seemed an issue, with piano and drums drowning out some of the show’s more interesting instrumentals.
Once we’d slid into our seats, however, we found the hidden gem that is Young Frankenstein‘s cast ready to rid us of our concerns and take us on a raucous ride. Right away, it was easy to tell this group had the talent to shine on their own. Nick Miller, a Second City alum who had the task of playing Gene Wilder’s Dr. Frankenstein, rose to the occasion, both channeling Wilder’s frenetic, sarcastic nature and bringing his own quiet charm to the role.
The two performers who really stole our hearts, though, were Parker Guidry as Igor and Gina Guarino as Frau Blucher. Guidry, whose past credits include Rent at the Cabaret Theatre and Triassic Parq at Circle Theatre, displayed fantastic comedic timing and an amazing physicality that really helped him stand out. Meanwhile, Gina Guarino brought down the house. From her first lines, her natural comedic ability stood out, and as the show went on we came to eagerly anticipate her every word. By the time she belted out the fantastically funny “He Vas My Boyfriend,” we were completely in love. Guarino has the stage presence, vocals and comedic genius to go far, and we’d go to another show just to see her.
In contrast, if there was a scene we wish had been left to the cutting room, it was the Hermit’s cabin scene. Though it does serve to establish that the monster has no ill intent, in this case, it felt like it was given too much importance and presented with too much fanfare. We’d like to have seen a more subdued, relatable hermit, as the role took on an at times cartoonish aspect, somewhat undermining Edward MacLennan’s excellent job as the Monster.
It turned out that much of the cast had talent to spare, with even the ensemble having fantastic vocal abilities and dance skills to boot, and it made the show a wholly enjoyable experience, despite some surrounding entropy. Musically and comedically, it was a lovely ride. The familiar story was given the love it deserves while allowing for its cast to make their own mark on the roles. This show is in its last week, with the final curtain dropping October 30, but you can still grab a ticket for a seasonal favorite here. This theater group, though in its infancy, has great potential. Though their ticket prices are somewhat ambitious, their passion for theater is evident, and we’re interested to see where the future leads for Malone and his crew.