When the Island was ‘The Happiest Town in Town’

ELEANOR P. LABROZZI PHOTOS

ELEANOR P. LABROZZI PHOTOS

As Dr. Frederick Frankestein said, “For what we are about to see next, we must enter quietly into the realm of genius.”

But for the lucky theatregoers who packed the school auditorium last weekend to see a rollicking production of “Young Frankenstein,” there was nothing even close to quiet — from either side of the footlights.

And as for genius, the raves for Mel Brooks’ comic masterpiece by everyone who saw it, were equally divided between the play and the players.

From the moment the curtain opened for “Young Frankenstein” and Tom Fay as the Herald proclaimed “Make way!” for the funeral procession of Victor Frankenstein, the Shelter Island Drama Club swept the audience to the colorful and sinister world of Transylvania. After the somber march, the cast broke into a rousing “Happiest Town in Town.” And last weekend, Shelter Island was that town.

ELEANOR P. LABROZZI PHOTOS

ELEANOR P. LABROZZI PHOTOS

THE PLAYERS

Charlie Binder played the younger Dr. “Fronkensteen” with perfect pomposity. He had an amazing ability to speak (and sing) medical lingo with rapid-fire ease. He was the straight man surrounded by lunacy; a man of science with a heart, soothing the creature he created with kind words and proving his love when he was willing to give up his superior brain. The doctor could sing too, in songs like “Life” and “Frederick’s Soliloquy.”

Drew Garrison jumped into his part with both feet and a hump, his physical comedy and acrobatic moves adding humor to every scene as he was choked, pushed and thrown across the floor. His ever-changing facial expressions kept the audience laughing; he remained hunched over for the entire show, never once straightening up, even to tap dance. Also noteworthy was his solo in “Transylvania Mania,” as he tried to distract the villagers from discovering the hidden Monster.

Libby Liszanckie, as Inga, showed off her gorgeous singing voice and spot-on German accent. (She admitted she worked hard at it.) She imbued her character with sweet saccharine and ditziness in equal parts, hitting all the high notes, especially in her solo, “Listen to your heart.”

Olivia Garrison and MeMe Lawrence shared the part of Frau Blucher, both playing her with perfect imperiousness. Olivia,with her Teutonic look and excellent German accent,  nailed her solo, “He was my Boyfriend.” MeMe gave the character a bit more softness, lending her beautiful and powerful singing voice. Especially funny was her scene in the library when she tried to coax Dr. F. to have a hot toddy.

For most of the play, Matthew Dunning as the Monster had lines that consisted of grunts. He grunted so expressively though, that along with his body language, there was no doubt of his meaning. When he finally got the doctor’s brain, through a complicated transference process, he became a genius and we finally heard his real voice, making his solo, “Deep Love,” extra special. And his part in “Puttin’ on the Ritz” was hilarious. Super Duper.

Serina Kaasik, as Elizabeth Benning, was gorgeous in red as Frederick’s “madcap and loveable fiancée,” capturing the self-involved vanity of the role, especially during her solo,“Don’t Touch Me.” And who else could get away with wearing a mink stole?

Macklin Lang portrayed Inspector Kemp, a man who lost an arm and a leg to one of Dr. F’s monsters and was determined to find an excuse for a hanging. He played the villain with bossy bitterness, coloring his character with just the right amount of menace.

Quinn Hundgen showed his versatility and comic gifts, first as Ziggy, the village idiot, played with amiable goofiness; followed by a hilarious scene in Act II as The Hermit who reacts to Frankenstein breaking through the door of his lonely cottage with the well-sung “Please Send Me Someone.”

Social Studies teacher Brian Doelger lent the voice of authority to Dr. Victor Frankenstein. Though he only appeared in the dream sequence, he brought the house down with his puffy shirt and deep, commanding singing voice — the original man to animate dead tissue who pressured his grandson to “Join the Family Business.”

041014i_play_Doelger and Charlie

Other members of the school staff made appearances too. Dr. Hynes played the cameo of Count Dracula on Friday night, swooping in for the final scene, typecast for his black hair, white face and blood dripping from his mouth. He even ad-libbed a line about the school up on the hill. This tiny but memorable role was one of the many highlights of the show and a last-minute surprise to the cast members. Walter Richards and Brian Becker appeared on Thursday and Sunday, allowing the makeup ladies to paint their heads black; Jim Dougherty had the role on Saturday night.

draculas

 

An attention to detail made the play memorable, with lots of visual treats and quick appearances; the actors appeared front and center for a moment and then melted into the crowd. Henry Lang had perfect slapstick reflexes as Mr. Hilltop, especially his boneless-looking dead faint. He was also funny as the “brave” villager who goes after the Monster — until he realizes he’s all alone and runs away.

Julia Labrozzi and Olivia Yeaman, disguised as horses, Blacken and Decker, added comedic mannerisms and timing to the “Roll in the Hay” scene. Isabella Sherman was the tiny friend of the Monster, innocently playing patty-cake with the huge green guy while everyone around her screamed in fright.

The zombies, played by Lily Garrison, Camryn Page, Genesis Urbaez and Isabella Sherman, crawled onstage on all fours and upside-down — a gymnastic feat worthy of admiration — in their teased hair and ghoulish makeup, to torment Dr. Frederick. The quartet of Cameron Clark, Will Garrison, Macklin Lang and Elizabeth Larsen tunefully welcomed the doctor to town. Will Garrison was the Werewolf, attacking and wrestling with Igor — his real life brother, Drew. Danny Boeklin played the telegraph boy with proper seriousness.

The tap dancers in “Puttin’ on the Ritz” managed to both smile and perform their dance flawlessly. With little or no dance experience they shone on the front line of the dance.

The play featured strong ensemble acting; the large number of actors and dancers gave the crowd scenes depth and variety.

We were watching you, too: Danny Boeklen, Cameron Clark, Sydney Clark, Kelly Colligan, Elizabeth Dunning, Lily Garrison, Will Garrison, Brianna Kimmelmann, Julia Labrozzi, Henry Lang, Elizabeth Larsen, Amira Lawrence, Colibri Lopez, Margaret Michalak, Camryn Page, Taylor Rando, Tom Fay, Taylor Sherman, Isabella Sherman, Sophia Strauss, Genesis Urbaez and Olivia Yeaman.

041014i_play_crew and cast

BEHIND THE SCENES

There’s so much work that went on behind the scenes to make this play possible. These people deserve a special shout out and a round of applause.

Peter Waldner was the set artist and scene painter — he’s responsible for the inside jokes: “L. Dickerson Glee Club meeting” on the chalkboard of the medical school classroom and the “J. Monaghan Meats,” a special tribute to a well-loved community member, Jack Monaghan, who made an unexpected appearance in the audience on Friday night. He also built the giant Frankenstein monster. Paul Mobius had the dubious title of “Nuclear Quantum Physics Specialist in charge of research and development for the top secret Mobius Defraculator,” in addition to constructing and painting those amazing sets, complete with lights and motors, with the help of John Kaasik.

The show couldn’t go on without stage manager Susan Binder and her hard-working crew clad in black. Ms. Binder has run the backstage for years, putting in countless hours of work to make the play run smoothly from behind the scenery. She had some new kids and a couple of veterans. Kenna McCarthy, Jack Lang, Yamilier Castillo, Christopher Corbett (nice bacon suit, Chris) and Annie Ross-Gates moved the scenery and props quickly and efficiently and always made sure the props were in the right place at the right time. Teacher and veteran of many Shelter Island School plays, Jimbo Theinert, helped backstage too. Nicole Poleshuk made sure the actors had their microphones in place.

Susan Cincotta tirelessly coached the actors, teaching them to show passion for their characters, checking on the kids before the show and sitting in different seats throughout the performances to get a better sense of what needed to be worked on. Her dedication showed; these kids really cared about the inhabitants of Transylvania.

A much-missed Laura Dickerson returned this year to choreograph the dance numbers, teaching non-tap dancers to shuffle and flap through “Puttin’ on the Ritz,” leap high in “The Happiest Town in Town” and dance like zombies in “Transylvania Mania.”

Music Director Phyllis Power taught the cast members their songs and worked with them daily to improve their solos. She also was the pianist in Keith Brace’s orchestra. Mr. Brace conducted the musicians with grace, adding to the eerie and jubilant musical moods of the play.

The lighting in the play was a character too, so much a part of creating a spooky ambience, and veteran lighting designer Jeanette Payne worked her two light boards with the magic of a pro. Especially noteworthy was the red and purple lights of the gloomy castle; the green lights that zapped through the lab around the Monster; the glowing gold lights of the dance scenes. The interplay of darkness and light made this play dynamic.

Producer Anu Kaasik wore a lot of hats, as always. She was costume coordinator and also worked sound, making sure the actors’ lines could be heard. The ladies of Elizabeth Arden — Mary Boeklin, Erin Colligan, Tricia Lenzer, Joanne Calabro and Anna Salsedo — did a fantastic job on the actors’ hair and makeup; Mary Larsen created a most impressive Igor and the Monster with her special makeup techniques.

A special spotlight on costume designer Meg Larsen’s silver needle and her assistant/daughter Meg-anne. These two ladies created beautiful costumes: evening gowns, party frocks, Inga’s fur-trimmed robe and the authentic-looking drindl dresses that every girl wore. If there was an Edith Head award, you ladies would win it.

Mary Boeklin, Meredith Page and Margaux King were the backstage moms, studying the script and making sure the kids got to the stage on time.

Lisa Goody patiently and efficiently sold tickets during school hours; Meghan Lang did yeoman’s work of creating and printing the program, despite a tempermental printer; Ms. Lang was also responsible for the “Kiss the Cast” fun fundraiser that collected Hersheys Kisses and notes from well-wishers. Eleanor Labrozzi contributed her always wonderful photos for the program, and for the first time, the actors’ headshots were included so people who didn’t know the players would recognize them onstage.

Chrystyna Kestler Jeanette Payne, Meghan Lang and Tom Hundgen kept the hungry cast and crew fed during the week of dress rehearsals.

041014i_play_Ritz lineup

DRUM ROLL PLEASE

Last but not least, a very special thank you to John and Anu Kaasik. With every play, not only did you encourage our kids to step out of their comfort zone, you taught them a valuable lesson: perseverance. When a wagon wheel fell off, when the stage lights needed new gels, when an actor’s wig fell off or a microphone stopped working, when a character’s beard almost caught fire, and this year, when snowstorms cancelled rehearsals and almost every cast and crew member came down with the flu or bronchitis, you kept the show rolling, never giving up.

If there’s any doubt that Kaasik plays are an annual community event, you only needed to look around at the audience during the four performances. There were people of all ages, teachers, school board members, older people with no relatives in the play, parents of kids who’ve already graduated, younger kids with stars in their eyes, asking for autographs and imagining the day when they will be onstage. All came to support the Drama Club and cheer on their young friends.

Young Frankenstein said, “Tonight, we shall ascend into the heavens.” Thanks for the heavenly ride, Drama Club.

FAMILY APPROVAL

Mel Brooks’ sister-in-law, Kim Keena, attended Thursday’s performance and introduced herself to the Kaasiks after the show. The gracious Ms. Keena then posted “What an opening night! Congrats to the whole cast and crew, you were all amazing!” on both her own and the Drama Club’s Facebook pages.

Editor’s note: The students in the National Honor Society collected over $1,025 for the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life when they passed the hat at the end of each performance.

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