Joanna Glushak helps turn ‘Young Frankenstein’ into something rare: A tour that outshines the original
STEVEN LINDSEY | Contributing Writer
When Mel Brooks turned his iconic 1970s black-and-white comedy, Young Frankenstein, into a big-budget Broadway musical, it had all the components of a smash hit: Huge stars, a beloved story, spectacular production values. The result was a fun night at a New York theater, but it didn’t live up to expectations.
Then it went on tour and everything changed for the better. And Joanna Glushak’s delightful scenery chewing as Frau Blucher is a major reason why.
“I think a few things happened,” explains Glushak, who has portrayed Young Dr. F’s housekeeper since the show began touring in September 2009. “The cast is different in a good and bad way: The [original cast] was a very, very contentious cast because they had all these stars vying for attention and jokes and I think there was a lot of tension on that stage.”
“The sets were humongous — we actually used those sets on the first leg of the tour. We downsized to a much smaller version, so we got rid of the big lab towers that flew up in the air. This gives you more focus on the actors and the humor. All that flying and all the mishegas kind of dwarfed the humor. We’re all sharing the stage now and playing with each other. I don’t think they were doing that as well on Broadway.”
The camaraderie among the new cast is apparent to anyone in the audience. There’s a gleam in their eyes and even moments when it seems that the actors are introducing new lines or jokes to make each other laugh. But in the end, they’re working from a classic comedy script, so some things will never change — even character traits from the original film. And Glushak had some big shoes to fill, following several notoriously campy icons on screen and stage.
“Each role comes to you differently,” Glushak says. “For this one, I watched Cloris Leachman’s performance [in the film] and tried to steal what she did. I’m not like her, but I could feel what she was doing. It made sense to me. I saw Andrea Martin [on Broadway], and it was different, of course, but it gave me a sense of freedom that I could take from both of them and still bring my own thing to it. So my feeling is you steal from the best and then you make it your own. You don’t turn your nose up at something that works.”
Glushak says the Frau Blucher role is a dream job for a character actress and one she’s thrilled to have landed.
“Mel Brooks writes with a rhythm, a very Jewish rhythm at times. Being Jewish, I get it. It’s in my blood. So I feel like I was born to play this role, I hate to say. It sounds so tacky, but in a way, I get it,” she says. “I come from the same background as Mel Brooks in a sense.”
One of the highlights of her stint in the show was the opportunity to meet Brooks.
“He’s been absolutely wonderful. That was the highlight of my life. I grew up looking at his movies, I never thought I’d meet him and talk to him and spend time with him, but I did. It’s amazing.”
Her favorite song, of course, is Blucher’s big number, “He Vas My Boyfriend,” which is very popular among gay audiences, probably due to the double-entendre laden lyrics about getting banged and plowed. Or maybe that her boyfriend won a three-legged race … all by himself.
“I don’t know if you know this, but the gay men’s choir [of Washington, D.C.] did a version of it,” she says. “I know it’s a big draw. It’s something new to sing at the musical theater bars!”
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Jan. 11, 2011.