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Actors add 'electric' character to Toby's 'Young Frankenstein'

The Baltimore Sun

Toby’s Dinner Theatre has a monster hit on its hands in more ways than one with “Young Frankenstein: The Mel Brooks Musical,” a joyous show based on Brooks’ 1974 hit movie.

In 2017, at age 91, Brooks re-worked his earlier Broadway “Young Frankenstein” musical, mining comedy gold by cutting scenes and songs, replacing a few with catchier show tunes and parodying overblown Broadway favorites. The result is a polished comic gem raucously celebrating vaudeville that has found an ideal home in Columbia at Toby’s — which is staging the show’s regional professional premiere.

Directed and choreographed and brilliantly cast by Mark Minnick, “Young Frankenstein” is doubly enjoyable with its terrific acting and Minnick’s expertise in using the in-the-round space in bright, innovative dance numbers. Hilarity is heightened by drawing audiences into the close-up action.

Strong support comes from sound designer Corey Brown and lighting designer David A. Hopkins, who also serves as scene designer. Music Director Ross Scott Rawlings leads his live pit musicians in delivering Brooks’ score. Brooks’ hummable tunes, set to amusingly raunchy lyrics, express this unique composer’s loving ode to musicals.

For Brooks, sex is a fun game amusingly played out in the chase. There’s a comfort zone for audiences, with nothing shocking except their own unleashed laughter.

Toby’s ensemble yields a dream cast, headed by Jeffrey Shankle, who gives comic life and abundant song and dance skills to his characterization of anatomy expert Frederick Frankenstein. Trained in prestigious American medical schools to distance himself from his infamous mad scientist Transylvanian grandfather, Frankenstein returns to claim his inheritance of a castle and laboratory.

Upon leaving his pampered American fiancé Elizabeth, exquisitely played by Alicia Osborn in a memorable Toby’s debut, Frederick conveys confused feelings in a strange adieu after hearing her “Please Don’t Touch Me.”

Frederick is greeted on his Transylvania arrival by former lab assistant Igor, played by David James. The two present a joyous duet, “Together Again for the First Time,” that cements their friendship and offers audiences a look at a fabulous comedic duo.

Frederick’s bewildered wonder rises as he meets fun-loving guide Inga, played by talented Louisa Tringali, who yodels her way through their hayride to his inherited castle home. Hilarity peaks in the comically ecstatic “Roll in the Hay” number as Frederick and Inga bounce off in a cart driven by braying horses.

Igor’s nostalgic yearning for his good ol’ grave-robbing days influences Frederick to revive the family corpse, and thus reanimate a business practiced by his grandfather. Joining them is estate housekeeper Frau Blucher, played by imposing Tess Rohan, who later delivers a supremely comic solo “He Vas My Boyfriend.”

David Bosley-Reynolds creates a fearsome Inspector Kemp, complete with a thick Germanic-sounding Transylvanian accent and a robotic gait resulting from his prosthetic leg and arm. His mellifluous baritone adds mightily to the evening’s entertainment, both in a segment of opener “A Village in Transylvania” and with a rousing “He’s Loose.”

Playing three roles, Justin Calhoun is most compelling as ancestor Victor Frankenstein, his formidable presence immediately commanding the scene. Calhoun displays impressive vocal chops and comedic skills in “Join the Family Business.”

Elizabeth Rayca graces the production as an ensemble player and as Tasha, lending a dash of excitement to the show’s ending.

Playing several characters, frequent show host Robert Biedermann rises to new comic heights as the Blind Hermit, desperately in search of human companionship. He invites Igor for a cup of soup with hilarious results.

Of course, the show’s real star may well be the Monster — Frederick’s reanimated corpse instructed to become a man about town. With formal attire and dancing shoes, the Monster is artfully portrayed by Christopher Kabara in a stunning Toby’s debut. Totally lovable and surprisingly graceful in the show’s “Puttin’ on the Ritz” number, Kabara’s Monster taps his way through a demanding routine.

Nestled into the comedy is a heart-warming ending accentuated by “Deep Love,” leaving us with a perfect close for the happiest show in recent memory.

“Young Frankenstein” continues through March 11 at Toby's Dinner Theatre, 5900 Symphony Woods Road, Columbia. For tickets and showtimes, call the box office at 410-730-8311 or 800-88TOBYS, or go to tobysdinnertheatre.com.

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