Young actors breathe life into Frankenstein

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From historic castles in Edinburgh to tents in Edmonton, the Fringe can make any space a theatre. That’s why I shouldn’t have been surprised to queue up in the quad of the Ivy-esque St. Michael’s University School (SMUS). This year’s production of “The New Mel Brooks’ Musical Young Frankenstein” is the school’s 15th Summer Drama Academy production and the sixth tied to the Fringe. Twenty-four teens directed by the ebullient Cam Cullen and Donna Williams (the one-person conductor, soundboard tech, stage manager, and musical director) scrambled for two weeks to get this show on its feet. While a little rough around the edges and a high-school production to boot, this rollicking production moved surprisingly quicker than the original. A fellow reviewer claimed to even have had a Simon Cowell/Susan Boyle moment.

The cast photos on the theatre door showed two casts, dubbed ‘Werewolf’ (W) and Vampire (V), which performed alternating shows. Not only that, roles were split. For instance, on Thursday, the classic role of Igor (W) (not Ee-gor, Eye-gor) played by Cormac Nugent was matched with a female twin: Egor (not Eye-gor, Ee-gor), played by Jordan Gilson. This arrangement allowed all 24 students to alternate as cast or chorus and crew for all four showings. You think it was complicated working out the democratic casting program? The in-scene role switching got even better. All 24 students would get two jobs, it seemed. In one show they would be cast, and in the other, chorus (villagers), and crew, which gave everyone equal stage time.

I wasn’t familiar with the Brooks/Meehan musical production (I missed the Canadian College of Performing Arts production that hit the McPherson in the spring, not to mention the Broadway and off-Broadway showings). I just heard that it was a good musical rendition that kept with the spirit and feeling of the film, so the original was my point of comparison.

After Cam’s quick introduction, the whole cast sang “The Happiest Town in Town.” Most of the voices were in various states of training but the number was enthusiastic and wasn’t hampered too much with self-conscious pitchiness.

Then we ‘cut’ to ‘America’ in a lecture hall, where a lab-coated blond took the stage; as the quick and sometimes chaotic set change got sorted, he began writing “Fronkensteen” on the revealed whiteboard. Friedrich Frankenstein, played by SMUS student Jasper Johnson, opened strongly with, “The Brain” and I suspect as his baritone comes in it will complement his commendable and capable acting chops.

The comedy bits mostly fell on the shoulders of Egor/Igor, who played well off Johnson and each other. The Teri Garr part was also split into Inga (Jordan Kerr) and Anya (Sarah Ellman) who did well with the innuendo humour of “Roll in the Hay”.

The introduction of Frau Blücher, though, (neighhhhhhh) revealed the player most likely to upstage the lead. Hannah Tokarsky, who played Blücher, gave my friend James, and myself to a certain degree, that Susan Boyle moment; her rendition of “He Vas My Boyfriend” stole the show—although the later duet between the Monster (Ethan Ko) and Elizabeth (Andrea Ellsay) got the best of my laughs. It was clear from Tokarsky’s entrance that she had a bit more prior training (her dad’s an acting teacher in Stony Plain, Alberta). Look for Tokarsky, Nugent, and Johnson in the future, because they have the budding chops to make good musical theatre happen.

As a workshop production, this was astounding. In high school, I was the jazz band guy (insert “one time at band camp” joke here), and we would put together a concert in a week. This is four times as monumental, and with a group of 24 to wrangle, a testament to educators who seek inspiration. It must have been a wonderful way for the cast to get Drama 11 credit in two weeks of summer vacation.

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