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Young at Heart

Tony Award winners Andrea Martin and Sutton Foster co-star in the sure-to-be monster hit Young Frankenstein. logo
Roger Bart, Megan Mullally, Shuler Hensley, Fred Applegate,
Andrea Martin, Sutton Foster, and Christopher Fitzgerald
in rehearsal for Young Frankenstein
(© Paul Kolnik)
Judging by its pedigree, Young Frankenstein, which begins a four week pre-Broadway tryout on August 7 at Seattle's Paramount Theater before moving into the Hilton Theatre on October 11, is sure to be -- you should pardon the expression -- a monster hit. Based on Mel Brooks' now-classic 1974 film, the show reunites the team behind the megahit musical The Producers, including Brooks, choreographer-director Susan Stroman, and book writer Thomas Meehan, all of whom have shelves full of Tony Awards.

What's raising the buzz to ear-shattering decibel levels, however, is the show's principal cast. Young Frankenstein features four more Tony winners, Roger Bart as Dr. Frankenstein, Shuler Hensley as the Monster, Sutton Foster as Inga, and Andrea Martin as Frau Blucher, not to mention multi-Emmy Award winner Megan Mullally and Broadway veterans Christopher Fitzgerald and Fred Applegate.

The show marks Martin's third time working with her "good friend Stro;" she played Aunt Eller in the 2002 Broadway revival of Oklahoma! and had a cameo in the film version of The Producers. But it's her first collaboration with Brooks. "I had a great audition for his film Life Stinks, and it came down to me and Lesley Anne Warren, who got the part," Martin recalls. "But he knows my work and we've socialized a lot. I'm so grateful they just offered me the role and I didn't have to audition."

Now that they're working together, she's finding him to be a great partner-in-crime. "Mel has his opinions, and I have mine, but he appreciates everyone's input. And Stro is very open to everything. It's not been what you'd call a very inhibitive atmosphere."

Having watched the film many times, Martin is cognizant about honoring the role's originator, Cloris Leachman (who was reportedly very disappointed not to be in the show, having read the role of Frau Blucher in the workshop). " I don't want to reinvent the role; this is more of a reinterpretation. Cloris' scenes were so memorable, but what she did was so small and subtle, and I wanted to heighten it since the Hilton is this 1,800-seat theater," says Martin. "So I looked at the movie Rebecca and studied Dame Judith Anderson (who played Mrs. Danvers, the evil housekeeper) and I realized you could have just taken that performance and put it on a stage. But I also wanted to use some of Andrea."

What about recreating Leachman's priceless German accent? "I was nervous, since I was afraid it would come out Greek like my character in My Big Fat Greek Wedding or middle-European like the Old Lady in Candide," she confesses. "But I ended up working with the dialect coach Deborah Hecht and I've found you can bluff your way into German. Having said that, I hope Jefferson Mays doesn't come see the play."

Martin isn't the star of the show, and that's just fine with her. "I don't enter until page 35, but I do make a grand entrance. Or let's say the doors I come through are grand," she says. "I have one really great number and I'm in a couple of other songs, though I don't do much dancing. The most challenging part of the experience for me is to keep what I'm doing consistently interesting, especially in the scenes where I don't have any lines. I do a lot of lurking."

Young Frankenstein will be the first time Martin has been part of an out-of-town tryout, but that singular experience is nothing new to Foster. "All the Broadway musicals I've done, Thoroughly Modern Millie, Little Women, and The Drowsy Chaperone, started out of town, so I know how important that is," she says. "I think they purposely picked Seattle, since it's one of the farthest U.S. cities from New York. Although with the Internet, people are already talking about the show."

Does that mean she's feeling some undue pressure? "I think there's a lot to live up to because of The Producers; my other shows felt more like the little engines that could," she says. "It's a little scary, but it is great that there are seven principal actors who share the weight. And in the end, the show is bigger than any of us. The title is the real star."

But any fear Foster has about doing the show has been happily set aside for a chance to work with Stroman, whom she's idolized since seeing Crazy for You. "She is so awesome, but it's been challenging because I really don't think of myself as a dancer anymore," says Foster. "She is just so inventive. There's this one big production number in the first act that I'm not in, and the first time I watched it, I was so overwhelmed it made me cry."

Like Martin, Foster has watched the film numerous times and wants to pay homage to the original Inga, Teri Garr. "At first, I was nervous about following Teri, but the more I got to know this character, who's a simple farm girl but very smart, I felt like I could do it," she says. "And Teri is quirky and kooky, and I consider myself those things too."

The hardest thing for Foster is the seven-week separation from her husband of less than a year, Legally Blonde star Christian Borle. "We're used to spending time apart, but it does get harder," she says. "Being in rehearsal in New York wasn't all that easy either. It was nice to have my home to go back to every night, but Christian and I were on such different schedules that all we could do was meet for coffee at 6pm. It will be great when we're finally on the same schedule -- great for us and our dog."

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