Powerful production brings out the best in one very silly musical

When last we visited Aurora’s Vintage Theatre, I was raving about their production of Five Guys Named Moe. I called it the “hit of the summer,” and now it looks like artistic director Bernie Cardell & Co. have the hit of the fall with a truly outstanding production of Young Frankenstein – The Musical.

Based on the 1974 Mel Brooks film, Young Frankenstein is one of those stories that doesn’t need a lot of introduction. As with the film, the musical stage version is a combination of the kinds of boob and dick jokes that appeal to 12-year-old boys — alongside a fusillade of double entendres, sight gags, pratfalls, puns and the like.

In other words, it’s very funny even as it appeals to the less-developed side of our sense of humor. With a fun lineup of musical numbers layered on top, however, the story becomes even richer and funnier than the film.

Vintage does plenty of great shows, but this particular production stands out for its assemblage by director Linda Suttle of a large cast without a weak link. You could slot this cast in at the Buell among the other touring Broadway productions and feel like you got your money’s worth. It’s wonderful to read through the cast bios and see that they’re mostly local actors, many of whom have been seen on the Vintage stage before — along with some newcomers.

Dr. Frankenstein is played by Cooper Kaminsky, who I recalled for a great, pre-pandy performance as Miss Trunchbull in Matilda the Musical (Sasquatch Productions). Here, the actor channels Gene Wilder’s original performance to great effect, echoing some of the late-great comedian’s style without overt mimicry. Alongside Kaminsky at the top of the show is the nightmarish fiancée Elizabeth, played by the amazing Miranda Byers with bitchy precision and a lovely voice (and great costumes).

Click to view gallery/Photos RDG Photography

As we shift scenes from New York to Transylvania, the hits keep coming. Bryan Plummer makes his Vintage debut as an excellent Igor, slinking, winking and hunching his way through an ongoing series of comic bits and running gags played mostly off the doctor. He introduces a prospective assistant for Frankenstein in the form of an oversexed, pigtailed blonde named Inga — played beautifully by Colby Reisinger.

After a very funny carriage ride with a pair of churlish, high-steppin’ horses, the action switches to the castle. Here, the impressive, super-flexible set by Ryan Walkoviak becomes a big part of the action, with stage manager Kathryn Gourley running a tight ship with all the moving pieces.

Upon arrival at the castle (and getting past the iconic “big knockers”) joke, we meet Frau Blücher (cue whinnying horses), Christine Kahane. With monobrow and powerful Bavarian accent in place, Kahane teases every laugh possible out of the character, culminating in her very funny song about her relationship with the original Dr. Frankenstein, “He Vas My Boyfriend.”

Who knew?

Joined by Scotty Shaffer as the Inspector (he also plays the hermit), it’s an impressive group accompanied by a skilled ensemble of dancers choreographed very nicely by Adrianne Hampton and led by dance captain Jenny Mather.

It’s not an easy act to follow, but when the time comes, Jeff Betsch pulls it off with an incredible performance as the Monster. Physically, Betsch is a pretty big guy, and with the big monster shoes on, he towers over the rest of the cast. From the early grunts as he comes alive to his erudite pronouncements after the brain transfer with the doctor, Betsch really brings it home. He does great work with his face to communicate thoughts, and gets big laughs when he starts doing takes on the follies of the other characters. By the time he and Kaminsky get to their big “Puttin’ on the Ritz” number, Betsch has the audience hanging on his every move.

Pretty impressive for a guy who, according to his cast bio, hasn’t been in a theatrical production for 15 years.

Vintage Theatre’s Young Frankenstein is a ton of fun and one not to miss not only for the laughs and musical numbers but for the amazingly high quality of the production itself.

It all adds up to a great night out at the theatre, so whip out your vaccine card, strap on that mask and head on up to Aurora!