It’s extremely rare that it takes me longer to drive to a theater than it does to watch the show I’m reviewing – especially if the theater is only 15 miles away, and I take the freeway for at least half the trip. It’s also rather unusual to attend a musical that doesn’t use any musical instruments or a pre-recorded soundtrack. But when it comes to Ferndale’s Ringwald Theatre, I always expect the unexpected – and that’s just what’s delivered with their Late Night mini-play, “Anne Frankenstein: The Musical.”
Author David Holstein, a writer for the Showtime series “Weeds,” combines the true-life story of diarist Anne Frank with Mary Shelley’s fictional “Frankenstein” to create an irreverent romp that satirizes both, yet also delivers a moral or two amidst the silliness.
Poor Anne Frank: She’s bored hiding in the attic from the Nazis. So to help pass time – and to provide herself a playmate – she creates an imperfect duplicate of herself, Anne Frankenstein. But trouble ensues when the noisy pair attracts the attention of a Nazi soldier who finds not only a Jewish family-in-hiding, but also a green-faced monster who falls in love with him (after ripping one of his arms off, of course).
While it’s not love at first sight for the Nazi, “Anne Frankenstein” is a laugh-filled comedy that doesn’t take itself seriously from start to finish. That includes the actors, who are obviously having a blast playing character types they’ll likely never tackle again.
In fact, the lights barely went up on the opening Saturday night performance when the chuckles began – thanks to a zesty and zany Christa Coulter, whose Anne (the real one, so to speak) is equal parts innocent and insane. (The look on her face in the opening moments of the show immediately sets the tone for the rest of the play.)
Emerald-hued Michael Hovitch is perfect as the disheveled and not-very-pretty duplicate, who figures she’s even more hated than Anne because she’s both Jewish and green. In particular, Hovitch defines the monster’s dichotomous nature quite nicely: Yes, she’s a scary monster, but she also has feelings – much to the chagrin of both the Nazi soldier and the creator whom she abandons.
Also providing plenty of chuckles is Gary Lehman as the Nazi. Lehman, a local improviser, knows how to use his face and body to generate a response from the audience, and he does so here with great results.
Vanessa Sawson has little to do as Anne’s Mother. And Tony Gross is probably on stage less than half the time it takes to get ready for his brief (but hilarious) appearance.
The tunes are sung a cappella, most of which (I believe) are made up by the cast (though to be honest, rarely on key). The slickest number is Lehman’s “Anything Jews Can Do, I Can Do Better” – but as the trio of warblers prove, not by much.
Which, of course, is part of the show’s overall charm!
‘Anne Frankenstein: The Musical’
Who Wants Cake! Theatre at The Ringwald Theatre, 22742 Woodward Ave., Ferndale. 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday through Aug. 1. $5. 248-545-5545. http://www.whowantscaketheatre.com.