Theatre BR’s ‘Young Frankenstein’ rests on Igor’s capable shoulders

If an actor is going to steal a show, it seems appropriate that the character be a thief.

“Young Frankenstein,” which opened last weekend at Theatre Baton Rouge, has plenty going for it — the cleverness of Mel Brooks’ script and a cast with the acting chops to make the laughs happen. Nobody does more to bring this to life than Anthony Pierre Jr.

Pierre is absolutely brilliant as Igor, the humpbacked Transylvanian who becomes Dr. Frederick Frankenstein’s servant. In Brooks’ 1974 movie, on which this musical is based, Igor was memorably played by Marty Feldman, whose wang-eyed visage allowed him to create laughs simply by mugging for the camera.

Pierre doesn’t have such an advantage, and doesn’t need it. He has impeccable timing, priceless expressions, the right movements and the knowledge that even when he isn’t the center of attention, he is supposed to keep acting. He turns a funny role into a side-splittingly hilarious one, and deservedly received the loudest applause at the opening night curtain call.

This was, to be sure, an eager audience, so familiar with the dialogue from the movie that it sometimes laughed before a punch line could be delivered. But these laughs were earned, and not just by Pierre.

The play, directed by Kurt Hauschild and Keith Dixon, closely follows the movie script. Zac Thriffiley is Dr. Frankenstein, a medical school professor who tries to downplay his family history before learning that his infamous relative has died, requiring him to go to Transylvania to tie up loose ends at the family estate. He leaves behind his teasing but distant fiancée, Elizabeth Benning (played by Charlynn White), and soon meets a lovely personal assistant, Inga (Marlo Landry Dupre) and the housekeeper, Frau Blucher (Kelly Martin), along with Igor.

Against his initial inclinations, he decides to take up the family tradition of turning dead bodies into living beings. Thanks to Igor’s body- and brain-stealing exploits, he succeeds in creating a monster (Lance Parker). All of this, of course, goes horribly awry.

All of the above do well in their acting assignments: Thriffiley as the pompous then frantic scientist, White as the coquettish love interest, Dupre as the lovely and seemingly innocent assistant, Martin — a veteran of comedy roles at TBR — as the forbidding Blucher. Parker also has a deft touch as the rather confused monster. Terry Byars, as he often does, brings whimsy and tenderness to his role as a lonely blind man who encounters the monster.

The musical part of the equation, directed by Richard A. Baker Jr., is uneven. Dupre has the best individual voice on the stage, and the chorus is quite capable. Thriffiley isn’t an especially strong singer, and White, unfortunately, is in way over her head. Her Act I duet with Thriffiley in “Please Don’t Touch Me” makes up in laughs what it lacks in vocal quality, but she simply doesn’t have the voice to handle her solo, “Deep Love.”

Fortunately, people don’t come to “Young Frankenstein” because of the tunes, but because of the irreverent and ribald humor for which Brooks is famous. In two hours and 45 minutes, there are plenty of laughs. The loudest are for Pierre.