Pit & Balcony Theatre kick off their 82nd season of showcasing premium community theatre with an embracing musical production of Young Frankenstein - decidedly one of the more ambitious, expansive, and challenging productions to brighten up the stage for theatre-goers that the Pit has undertaken in recent years.
Based upon the classic Mel Brooks comedy film of the same name and written by Brooks and Gene Wilder, this parody of the Mary Shelley horror classic features over ten actors, eleven members in the Chorus, over 22 musical numbers, challenging set designs and elaborate costuming, which when coupled with rigorous dance routines, poses a decidedly demanding schedule for all involved.
According to veteran P&B director Jim Gaertner, this theatrical production of Brook's comedy classic runs very similar to the movie. “Mel Brooks gets a lot of credit for this, but it was actually Gene Wilder that went to Brooks with the idea for the musical,” explains Gaertner. “He had a song that he took to Mel and set up a meeting and two hours later they hadn't started to talk about it, yet after five minutes of discussion Brooks quickly agreed to move forward with the project.”
After previewing on Broadway in October 2007, an October 2006 reading of the first draft of this script featured Saginaw's Brian d'Arcy James as Dr. Frankenstein; and the play experienced 485 performances on Broadway. “The is an incredibly challenging endeavor for the Pit, as it features dancing, singing, castles, dungeons, and 15 different sets. We actually are raising Frankenstein up through the use of a lift to get him near the lightning, and it's amazing to watch the crew build stages on top of stages,” continues Gaertner. “For people that know the movie they won't witness much deviation in the stage performance; however the production is intended for mature audiences - older teenagers and upward.”
Actor Christopher Dinnan plays Frederick Frankenstein - a New York doctor that insists his last name is 'Frankensteen' in an effort to separate himself from his less than scientific ancestors - who returns to Transylvania Heights to settle his grandfather's estate, only to become lured back into the 'family business'. Accompanied by his faithful assistant Igor (Greg Allison); his grandfather's girlfriend, Frau Blucher (Lucy Malacos) and his new assistant, Inga (Christy Horn); Frederick reprises old ancestral habits for creating a new monster with the brain of a genius, to a consistently escalating chain of hilarious consequences.
Despite the many challenges, Gaertner is enthusiastic about the level of interest in this production gauged from the try-outs. “We had 34 people try out for roles in this play and ended up with 28 in the cast; and each member is working their hind ends off,” enthuses Gaertner. “They come in at 4 PM to work with musical director, Noel Howland and choreographer, Candy Kotze, and will stay until 10 PM at night, working four to five hours a night to get this production nailed properly. There is a major commitment by all involved to pull this off and get everything down right.”
Gaertner views his role as the Director to bring all these disparate elements together into one cohesive and flawless mechanism. “I get the vision of the Big Picture, the cast members focus on their characters, the musical director and choreographer each have their roles, but I need to bring all three of these elements together. I'm trying to stick very closely to the film and Broadway production because you don't need to reinvent the wheel, plus writers hate it when you change their scripts. You can interpret, but don't change anything. Visually everything is very black and white and grey - like an old horror film.”
“We haven't done big shows here in quite awhile, so I can't over-emphasize what a major commitment this is for all involved,” concludes Gaertner. “We're at a stage now where we are going seven days a week with rehearsals for almost three weeks, plus we have almost 15 crew people for the lights, sounds, and moving sets.”
Will there be any audience interaction? “Oh yes,” smiles Gaertner. “That's a shtick for me, no matter what show I direct. I love interactive stuff with the audience and could never direct a show that involved all the action around a static and set proscenium.”
Performances of 'Young Frankenstein' take place October 4, 5, 6 and October 11, 12, 13th. Show time is 8:00 PM with Sunday matinees at 3:00 PM. Tickets are available at the box office or online at pitandbalconytheatre.com or by phoning 989-754-6587. Pit & Balcony is located at 805 N. Hamilton St. in Saginaw. Group rates are available for 10 or more. Additionally, to encourage student attendance, there will be a 'Student Rush' for all performances 15 minutes before curtain for only $10.00 per person, cash only. A valid student ID is required.
New President Enthusiastic About the Renaissance of Pit & Balcony
It is often easy to take for granted the gifts that we have to enjoy in our own backyard; but as far as community theatres go, Pit & Balcony is one of the oldest community theatres in the country and new Board President Martha Humphreys is intent and focused upon a mission to move the stature of this storied community resource to new levels of excellence and appreciation within the Great Lakes Bay region.
“I believe we have an incredible season coming up and as our first production, Young Frankenstein attests, the commitment of time and energy by cast and crew is absolutely astounding. The general public has no idea of the commitment that goes into these productions,” reflects Humphreys.
Having involved herself with P&B for four years prior to becoming the new Board President, Martha is summoning a sizable amount of energy to help shepherd the theatre to new levels of visibility within the community. “I think for a period there we got lost in the shuffle with activities going on at other arts organizations and we need to come to the forefront again,” she explains. “Our attendance is up, we've witnessed ore season ticket sales than in prior years, and we've had excellent turnouts for our auditions, so I believe the strength of this season is a good way to reset our direction.”
“Our Christmas show this year is Miracle on 34th Street, which always brings in a lot of patrons. Amy Spadafore will direct this. Following that will be our production of Greater Tuna, which is a two-man show with over 20 characters that takes place in Tuna, Texas, the third smallest city in Texas, and revolves around a radio station. This play received a command performance at the White House and will be directed by Brandon Bierlein, who last did The Drowsy Chaperone for us,” continues Humphreys.
“What truly excites me about this season, however, is that we will be performing A Raisin in The Sun,” enthuses Humphreys. “This is the first time that we've done a show of this nature and will be doing it in conjunction with black history month. The script is so strong and this is one of my favorite plays. But most important, we are trying to reach out to black audiences because I feel we've been missing a whole pool of patrons and talent. I believe we are here for the entire community and it is our mission to entertain and allow talent within our area to grow, so I am very excited about this because it's a big move on our part.”
“And to close out our season we will feature the regional premier of Spring Awakening, which has won nine Tony awards. It was written by a German dramatist in 1890 and first performed in 1906 and is a critique of the sexually repressive culture of the 19th century. This play actually wound up going to court when it was first performed on Broadway with only one matinee performance; so again, by today's standards it is relatively benign, but it forges an important and exciting work from an often overlooked period of history. It features a fabulous libretto and is the story of kids coming of age and the beginning of adolescence. I feel it poses a really strong finish to the season for us.”
Additionally, Humphreys says that P&B will be holding a fundraiser in June with an Open Reading by members of the community of Thornton Wilder's Our Town to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the play. “I'm very excited about this because again it brings people to the stage that usually aren't found there and will open interest in our work to more people in the community and region.”
“My biggest goal is to see every seat filled for each performance,” concludes Humphreys. “Many people instinctively experience an inward groan when they hear the words 'community theatre', mistakenly thinking that what will be performed on stage will be sub par compared with what they expect from live theatre. But these people couldn't be more wrong.”
“A community theatre represents the paradigm of excellence within the area. It is the axiom for celebration of where we live. And we are fortunate to have outstanding talent in every aspect of a production.”