Pick Me Up Theatre to stage revived Young Frankenstein, now on the move to Joseph Rowntree Theatre after November call-off

Pick Me Up Theatre principals in Young Frankenstein: back row, from left, James Willstrop’s Dr Frederick Frankenstein, Helen Spencer’s Frau Blucher and Jennie Wogan-Wells’s Elizabeth Benning; front row, Jack Hooper’s Igor and Sanna Jeppsson’s Inga. All pictures: Jennifer Jones

YORK company Pick Me Up Theatre will stage the northern premiere of Mel Brooks’s musical Young Frankenstein  in the New Year after the late postponement of last autumn’s run at the Grand Opera House.

Andrew Isherwood has picked up the directorial reins for this stage conversion of Brooks’s comedy horror movie, produced in York by artistic director and designer Robert Readman.

Rehearsals re-started in early December for the January 31 to February 3 run at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, with the original principal cast still in place and Helen Spencer assisting with production management.

“This show is by the creators of the record-breaking Broadway sensation The Producers,” says Robert. “The comedy genius Mel Brooks has adapted his legendary comedy film from 1974 into a brilliant stage show of Young Frankenstein. I saw the West End production and loved it.

Following the science: James Willstrop’s Dr Frederick Frankenstein in Young Frankenstein

“Every bit as relevant to audience members who will remember the original as it will be to newcomers, the musical has all the of panache of the screen sensation with a little extra theatrical flair added. Young Frankenstein is scientifically proven, monstrously good entertainment.”

In Brooks’s spoof, the grandson of infamous scientist Victor Frankenstein, Dr Frederick Frankenstein (pronounced “Fronk-en-steen”, he insists), has inherited his family’s castle estate in Transylvania.

Aided and hindered by hunchbacked sidekick Igor (pronounced “Eye-gore”), leggy lab assistant Inga (pronounced normally), devilishly sexy Frau Blucher (“Neigh”!) and needy fiancée Elizabeth (“Surprise”!), Frederick finds himself filling the mad scientist shoes of his ancestor.

After initial reluctance, his mission will be to strive to fulfil his grandfather’s legacy by bringing a corpse back to life. “It’s alive!”, he exclaims as his experiment yields a creature to rival his grandfather’s monster. Eventually, and inevitably, this new monster escapes.

Working in tandem with Thomas Meehan, Brooks gleefully reanimates his horror-movie send-up of Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel, Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus, with even more jokes, set-pieces and barnstorming parody songs that stick a pitchfork into good taste. Among those songs will be Puttin’ On The Ritz, Please Don’t Touch Me, He Vas My Boyfriend, The Transylvania Mania and There Is Nothing Like A Brain!, among many more Transylvanian smash hits.

Helen Spencer’s Frau Blucher and Jack Hooper’s Igor

Leading Pick Me Up’s cast will be former world squash champion James Willstrop, continuing his transfer from court to stage player as Dr Frankenstein after his Captain Von Trapp in Pick Me Up’s The Sound Of Music at Theatre@41, Monkgate, last Christmas.

Starring opposite him again will be Swedish-born Sanna Jeppsson (Maria in The Sound Of Music), here cast as Inga, while Jack Hooper, Mr Poppy in York Stage’s Nativity! The Musical in November 2022, will be Dr Frankenstein’s puppy dog of an assistant, Igor, “the classic Hammer Horror sidekick with a hump that keeps moving around”.

Helen Spencer (Mother Abbess in The Sound Of Music and Dolly Levi in Joseph Rowntree Theatre Company’s Hello, Dolly!) will play Frau Blucher, “the very stern housekeeper with surprising hidden depths”; Jennie Wogan-Wells, the Narrator in York Musical Theatre Company’s Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat last May, will be ingenue Elizabeth Benning, Frankenstein’s fiancée from America. “Think Legally Blonde,” says Helen. “Very conscious of her image; very high maintenance, throwing a spanner in the works when she turns up.”

Craig Kirby (Tom Oakley in Pick Me Up’s Goodnight Mr Tom) will be in Monster mode and further roles will go to Tom Riddolls as Sgt Kemp, Sam Steel as Bertram Bartam and Andrew Isherwood, fresh from directing Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None for Pick Me Up last September, can be spotted as The Hermit as well as directing.

Rivals for Dr Frankenstein’s affections: Jennie Wogan-Wells’s Elizabeth Benning, left, and Sanna Jeppsson’s Inga

A supporting ensemble will play Transylvanians, students and more besides. Choreography is by Ilana Weets and the orchestra will be led by musical maestro Sam Johnson.

Readman had to call off Pick Me Up’s Halloween double bill of Emma Reeves and Lucy Potter’s The Worst Witch and Young Frankenstein at the Grand Opera House due to unforeseen circumstances. It has not been possible to re-mount Rosy Rowley’s production of The Worst Witch, featuring a young cast, but Young Frankenstein will take over the JoRo slot allocated originally to Pick Me Up’s now jettisoned production of Chicago, whose principal casting was in place, but whose rehearsals were yet to start.

Helen Spencer is relishing the resumption of rehearsals for Young Frankenstein. “Ilana had already put us through a huge amount of tap-dancing work:  a very delayed return to tap in my case, having not done it since school, and she’s been very patient,” she says. “We’re having such fun again.

“Young Frankenstein is very silly with some brilliant numbers and really vibrant comedy, and we’re very lucky to have such amazing actors. Robert says it’s the best principal cast he could have wished for, such a safe pair of hands and so skilled that it would have been such a shame not to have done it. Thankfully we’re going ahead in January.”

Pick Me Up Theatre in Young Frankenstein, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, January 31 to February 3 2024, 7.30pm plus 2.30pm Saturday matinee. Box office: 01904 501935 or josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk

NEWSFLASHES…Curtains…The Hollywood Sisters…Joseph Rowntree Theatre Musical Theatre Awards…Musicals In The Multiverse…

Joseph Rowntree Theatre Company cast members for Curtains poke their heads out from beneath the JoRo curtain, which will fom part of the musical mystery whodunit’s set in February, along with the auditorium at large

JOSEPH Rowntree Theatre Company’s next show will be Curtains, the 2007 Broadway musical mystery comedy with a book by Rupert Holmes, lyrics by Fred Ebb, music by John Kander and additional lyrics by Kander and Holmes.

What’s the plot? Boston’s Colonial Theatre is host to the opening night performance of a new musical in 1959. When the leading lady – a fading Hollywood star and diva, who has no right to be one – dies mysteriously on stage, the entire cast and crew are suspects.

Enter a local detective – and musical theatre fan to boot – who tries to save the show, solve the case, and maybe even find love before the show reopens, all without being killed.

Delightful characters, a witty and charming script and glorious tunes await you from February 7 to 10 at 7.30pm nightly plus a 2.30pm Saturday matinee. In the cast will be Steven Jobson, Jennifer Jones, Jennie Wogan-Wells, Rosy Rowley, Jonathan Wells, Paul Blenkiron, Ben Huntley, Jennifer Payne, Anthony Gardner, Chris Gibson and Jamie Benson, among others.

Proceeds from ticket sales on 01904 501935 or at josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk will go to the JoRo.

The Hollywood Sisters: from left, Helen Spencer, Henrietta Linnemann, Rachel Higgs and Cat Foster

AFTER raising £1,000 for York Mind at their sold-out December 1 concert at Theatre@41, Monkgate, York close-harmony quartet The Hollywood Sisters – Helen Spencer, Cat Foster, Rachel Higgs and Henrietta Linnemann – will return there for another charity Christmas show with special guests next December. Watch this space for further details.

THE inaugural Joseph Rowntree Theatre Musical Theatre Awards will be launched formally in January. Watch this space.

Set up by the JoRo, the awards will run annually. “We’ve put out requests to all the companies that do full-book musicals in York, not specifically at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre,” says York actress, singer and director Helen Spencer, who is helping to run the awards with co-founder Nick Sephton. “At least seven companies have said they want to be involved.

“The way it works, each company nominates a judge; the judges will get together at the end of the year to decide who the winners are, with such categories as Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director and Best Choreographer, and then the awards ceremony will be held at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre, Oscars style, in January.”

Explaining the concept behind the awards, Helen says: “The idea is to celebrate the amazing musical theatre scene we have in York and the amazing community we have that puts on these shows. This is a chance to celebrate all that creativity in our city.”

Scarlett Rowley in the first edition of Musicals In The Multverse at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre in June 2023

TO quote CharlesHutchPress, from the June 30 review,Musicals In The Multiverse turns out to be out of this world. A sequel will surely follow.”

Happy to report that this Joseph Rowntree Theatre Company revue will return to the JoRo in June 2024, dates yet to be confirmed.

Directed by Helen Spencer, the show’s modus operandi is “playful, radical too, and has the potential to be rolled out again,” as CharlesHutchPress wrote of June’s inaugural two-night run.

“Imagine alternative worlds – a multiverse – where musical favourites take on a new life with a change of gender, era, key or musical style, arranged with glee, joy and flourish after flourish by musical director Matthew Peter Clare for his smart band”. More details of the sequel will follow.

REVIEW: Joseph Rowntree Theatre Company in Musicals In The Multiverse, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York ****

Guitarist Mickey Moran hits the histrionic heights in Bat Out Of Hell’s Dead Ringer For Love, the first-half climax to Musicals In The Multiverse. Pictures: Holly Brighton

JOSEPH Rowntree Theatre Company’s summer show is restricted to only two performances. Big cast, bags of energy and enthusiasm, fun idea for a show, and it would surely have merited a longer run.

Decent house last night, and an even bigger audience is expected tonight, with all proceeds going to the JoRo Theatre, as is the case with all JRTC productions.

This one is directed by Helen ‘Bells’ Spencer, who played the lead in Hello, Dolly! in February and now pulls the strings with aplomb.

Steven Jobson welcoming the audience to the Multiverse

She pops up in two numbers too (Beauty And The Beast’s Tale As Old As Time with Catherine Foster and an amusing pyjama party revamp of City Of Angels’ What You Don’t Know About Women with Foster, Connie Howcroft, Nicola Strataridaki, Jennie Wogan-Wells and Tessa Ellis).

Meanwhile, her children, Tempi and Lao Singhateh, enjoy a sweet, humorous cameo in Matilda’s When I Grow Up, where adults sing the children’s lines.

The show’s concept is playful, radical too, and has the potential to be rolled out again. Imagine alternative worlds – a multiverse – where musical favourites take on a new life with a change of gender, era, key or musical style, arranged with glee, joy and flourish after flourish by musical director Matthew Peter Clare for his smart band.

Connie Howcroft: A major transformation of Frozen’s Let It Go in a foreboding minor key

The opening ensemble number Pure Imagination, from Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, is an invitation for the audience to use exactly that, as songs are freed from the chains of their usual presentation.

Blood Brothers’ That Guy, without a change of lyrics, is now sung by two females, Ashley Ginter and Scarlett Rowley, who later thrives on Jennie Wogan-Wellss’ choreography in the dance number Electricity from Billy Elliot.

In His Eyes, from Jekyll & Hyde The Musical, makes the reverse switch, given to James Willstrop and Ryan Richardson in a stand-out first half duet.

High point: Scarlett Rowley is held aloft in the Billy Elliot dance number Electricity

Porgy & Bess’s Summertime blossoms anew in a barbershop setting, Jennifer Jones leads the dance ensemble in a swish Luck Be A Lady from Guys And Dolls, and Nicola Strataridaki has the last word in her slick duet with Chris Gibson in Lady Is A Tramp.

In a shift from major key to foreboding minor, Connie Howcroft deep-freezes Frozen’s Let It Go, the closing line, “The cold never bothered me anyway”, now so chilling.

In the oh-so-right choice of first-half climax, Rosy Rowley rivals Meat Loaf’s braggadocio in Dead Ringer For Love (from Bat Out Of Hell), while a series of men take on Cher’s swaggering responses. Always an over-the-top number, it becomes a company pile-on as everyone joins in, beer bottles in hand, and heavy metal-haired guitarist Mickey Moran strides to the front for a rock god solo. Moran, by the way, is outstanding throughout.

A mother’s plea: Jennie Wogan-Wells sings Les Miserables in a First World War setting

The second half opens in Matilda’s classroom before Jennie Wogan-Wells delivers the night’s most moving solo: transforming Les Miserables’ Bring Him Home into a mother’s prayer for her son to return safely from the First World War trenches.

Nick Sephton’s It’s All Coming Back To Me Now (from Bat Out Of Hell) is powerfully, sombrely reflective, Rachel Higgs’s Part Of Your World, from The Little Mermaid, is the second belter to benefit from the switch from major to minor; Steven Jobson and Richardson make you know I Know Him So Well in a new way and Rosy Rowley and Abi Carter likewise transform La Cage Aux Folles’ Song On The Sand.

The most impactful reinvention of all, made all the punchier by Wogan-Wells’s choreography, is Cell Block Tango, where Richard Goodall, Gibson, Richardson, Jack James Fry, Jobson and Willstrop’s murderers in toxic orange prison overalls brag about their deeds, as the dancers strut around them in familiar Chicago style.

Murdering a song…most entertainingly: the orange-overalled prisoners (Richard Goodall, Chris Gibson, Ryan Richardson, Jack James FRy, Steven Jobson and James Willstrop) brag of their crimes to the Dancers in Chicago’s Cell Block Tango

Tessa Ellis turns Beauty And The Beast’s Evermore into a Sixties ballad in Dusty Springfield or Petula Clark style; Howcroft, superb again, and Wogan-Wells vie for centre stage in The Wild Party’s Let Me Drown, and Rosy Rowley has the audience on its feet, after some insistent cajoling, for the finale, as she deepens Frankie Valli’s lead vocal in Jersey Boys’ Who Loves You?

Musicals In The Multiverse turns out to be out of this world. A sequel will surely follow.

Joseph Rowntree Theatre Company in Musicals In The Multiverse, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, tonight (30/6/2023) 7.30pm. Box office: 01904 501395 or josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk.

Helen Spencer directing a rehearsal of Musicals In The Multiverse. Picture: Jenny Jones

Coming next from Joseph Rowntree Theatre Company

JOSEPH Rowntree Theatre Company will present a full-scale production of the musical whodunit Curtains, from the creators of Cabaret and Chicago, Fred Ebb and John Kander, at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, from February 7 to 10 2024.

British-American composer, singer-songwriter, dramatist and author Rupert Holmes wrote the book for this 2006 comedy mystery set in the 1950s. Ebb ebbed away (RIP September 11 2004) before its completion.

The song What Kind Of Man? attacks theatre critics. Ouch!

All your favourite musical songs, but not as you know them, in Joseph Rowntree Theatre Co’s Musicals In The Multiverse

Helen Spencer directing a rehearsal for Joseph Rowntree Theatre Company’s Musicals In The Multiverse. Picture: Jenny Jones

JOSEPH Rowntree Theatre Company’s summer fundraising show, Musicals In The Multiverse, will be their “most ambitious concert production ever”.

Staged at the JoRo on June 29 and 30, this out-of-this-universe show will be directed by Helen Spencer, last seen on that stage in the title role of JRTC’s Hello, Dolly! in February.

“We have some of the best talent York has to offer in our 36-strong cast, so it’s been a joy to cast,” says Helen. “We were delighted after the success of Hello, Dolly! to welcome a lot of new members and this concert is the perfect showcase for the ever-growing JRTC as we invite the Yorkshire community to this epic show.

“It’s our ‘most ambitious’ concert in that it’s the biggest cast we’ve had for a summer show and it’s much more of a production than just a concert: more numbers, more choreography, more cast members, and the concept itself is more ambitious and challenging.”

Introducing the show’s concept, she says: “Musicals In The Multiverse will be an exciting evening of musical theatre favourites with a twist. In the parallel universes of this musical multiverse, you’ll hear the songs that you know and love, but with their traditional presentation turned on its head, so they are different but still recognisable. This means gender swaps, minor to major key swaps, musical style swaps and more!

“The concept came from a conversation among JRTC members about songs they would love to sing but would never get the opportunity to do so in a fully staged musical production, for example due to the gender, age etc of the character in the original setting.

“We pride ourselves on being an inclusive and welcoming artistic space for all. The concept for this show allows our wonderfully talented and diverse cast to perform songs that explore and celebrate who they are, to push some of the traditional musical theatre boundaries and ultimately honour some of the best musical songs ever written.” 

Cast members in an early rehearsal for Joseph Rowntree Theatre Company’s Musicals In The Multiverse. Picture: Jenny Jones

Accompanied by a five-piece band, Helen’s cast will perform a mixture of solos, duets, small group and full ensemble numbers on a set list featuring songs from Les Miserables, Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, Rent, Blood Brothers, Company, Bat Out Of Hell, The Little Mermaid, Jersey Boys, Chicago, Guys And Dolls, Beauty And The Beast, Frozen and Billy Elliot.

“As well as showstopping songs from a whole cast bursting with vocal talent, our strong core of dancers will perform several spectacular featured dance numbers, such as Electricity from Billy Elliot,” says Helen.

“Every song in the show will have at least one twist. Our tagline ‘Expect the unexpected in the multiverse’ is absolutely right. The most basic shift will be from male to female voice, for which we have to change the key. Then we have musical style changes for songs that were classical or musical theatre pieces into jazz or blues numbers.

“There are era swaps too, moving songs contextually into a different era so that the words take on a different meaning. Bring Him Home, from Les Miserables, is moved from 19th century France to Second World War Britain, sung beautifully by Jennie Wogan-Wells as a mother to her son on the front, wanting to bring him home safely.”

In the shift from major key to minor, two Disney numbers change dramatically. “Frozen’s Let It Go, sung by Connie Howcroft, and Little Mermaid’s Part Of Your World, sung by Rachel Higgs, take on a more sinister, evil vibe,” says Helen. “Let It Go becomes a much darker song, less Disney, more jazz.”

Focusing on the gender swaps, Helen says: “Often we’ve not changed the gender within the song, so the sexuality of the song becomes different. For example, Rosy Rowley sings Meat Loaf’s Dead Ringer For Love from Bat Out Of Hell and takes Frankie Valli’s lead vocal in Who Loves You from the musical Jersey Boys.

“That’s one of the things we’ve loved about the rehearsal process: people have the chance to sing songs they now feel comfortable with, so we’re proud of supporting of that aspect of the show, because of the gender diversity in the cast.”

As consultant psychiatrist and JRTC regular Helen swaps Dolly’s red feathers for the director’s hat, she is joined in the production team by musical director Matthew Clare, choreographer Jennie Wogan-Wells and assistant musical director James Ball.

“It’s a formidable new creative team for this adventure,” says Helen. “I have a huge amount of professional experience as a performer, vocal coach and company manager and I’m delighted to be taking the reins for this exciting project.

“Some of his arrangements are absolutely stunning,” says director Helen Spencer of musical director Matthew Clare. Picture: Jenny Jones

“Well known on the York musical circuit as a director, musical director and musician, this is Matthew’s first production with JRTC. However, he has close ties with the cast and the company, and he is most excited to be writing unique and innovative arrangements of some all-time favourites.

“I approached Matthew, who I’d worked with before, as he’s very good at rearranging music and parts and that’s what we needed for this show, altering songs in some way. Some of his arrangements are absolutely stunning, some are challenging to sing: he never does anything easy!”

As for choreographer Jennie, Helen says: “She has been a key figure in JRTC for many years, both on and off the stage, and we’re thrilled to have her experience, energy and vision as the choreographer in the multiverse. 

“We’re super-super happy to have Jennie doing it as she’s a really strong dancer in JRTC shows and she’d expressed a wish to get more involved in the choreography. She has the imagination to run with an idea, which is perfect for this show.

“We’ve also been lucky to get some really good dancers so that it’s not just a stand and sing show but has lots of great dancing in it.”

Helen will feature in the show in a “very tiny way”. “I’ll be performing in a fun number from City Of Angels, What You Don’t Know About Women, which is usually sung as a duet, but we’re doing it as a sextet where we’ve changed it from the 1930s to the modern day as a pyjama party for women bitching about men!

“I’m only doing it because I was feeling jealous about not doing anything at all on stage, though I’m a believer in stepping back as the director and giving everyone in the company as much chance as possible to shine,” she says.

“It felt right to do that as we’re determined to have featured parts for everyone, even if its’s just a featured line or a highlighted moment to show what an amazing company we’ve put together.”

Joseph Rowntree Theatre Company in Musicals In The Multiverse, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, June 29 and 30, 7.30pm. Box office: 01904 501935 or josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk. All profits go straight back the Joseph Rowntree Theatre.

Making moves: Choreographer Jennie Wogan-Wells in action. Picture: Jenny Jones

Cast List:

Abi Carter; Alex Schofield; Ashley Ginter; Ben Huntley; Catherine Foster; Charlotte Wetherell; Chris Gibson; Connie Howcroft; Dan Crawford-Porter; Ellie Carrier; Helen Barugh; Jack James Fry; Jai Rowley; James Willstrop; Jen Payne; Jennie Wogan-Wells; Jenny Jones; Jono Wells; Kat Dent; Kathryn Lay; Lorna Newby; Meg Badrick; Nick Sephton; Nicola Strataridaki; Pamela Bradley; Rachel Higgs; Richard Goodall; Rosy Rowley; Ryan Richardson; Scarlett Rowley; Steven Jobson; Tessa Ellis; Vanessa Lee and Victoria Beale.

Did you know?

HELEN’S children, Temperance and Laertes Singhateh, aged ten and seven, will be singing in the show. “In When I Grow Up, from Matilda, adults will sing Matilda’s lines and Tempi and Laertes will do teacher Miss Honey’s lines, because the concept is, we’re all children but we happen to grow up,” says Helen. “It realy changes the song doing it this way.”

Did you know too?

HELEN Spencer worked in theatre professionally, touring Europe in her 20s, having studied for a music and drama degree.

She has been a consultant psychiatrist for 12 years since changing her career path. Initially she combined performing with her medical studies but then decided psychiatry should be her focus.

Now she is embracing performing and directing anew. “I love psychiatry, working for the NHS in my job, but part of my well-being is doing music and drama, so it’s good to be doing that too. If I don’t do it, I’m sad,” she says. “Being busy and happy is fine by me.”

Copyright of The Press, York