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Young Frankenstein Comes to Shea's
by Anthony Chase
Joanna Glushak talks about Frau Blucher, comedy, and meeting Mel Brooks
Joanna Glushak, who plays Frau Blucher in the national touring production of Young Frankenstein, now at Shea’s, has been to Buffalo many times before. In fact, the native New Yorker quips by telephone that Artvoice might as well be her hometown newspaper.
I adored Glushak from the time I saw her at Studio Arena during the 1989-1990 season, in a musical called Galileo. Buffalo’s Sammy Viverito staged the musical numbers. (When the show opened, in addition to Miss Glushak, I praised the show’s gifted composer, an unknown named Jeanine Levenson, who would to go on to great fame as Jeanine Tesori, composer for Broadway’s Thoroughly Modern Millie; Caroline, or Change; and Shrek the Musical). Glushak also starred as Sally Bowles in Cabaret during a golden age of musicals at Artpark—again, with Viverito devising the choreography.
“That was a glorious summer at Artpark,” recalls Glushak. “James Clow played Cliff. We had such fun, and laughed and laughed.”
Glushak returned to Buffalo with a national tour of Fiddler on the Roof that played Shea’s, and during that tour got to know another Buffalonian, Michele Ragusa.
Over the years, I’ve kept an eye out for Glushak, at Goodspeed Opera House—in shows like Madame Sherry, The Chocolate Soldier, or The Apple Tree (co-starring Buffalo’s John Scherer), on Broadway, and at theaters throughout the country.
She was the standby for Buffalo’s Christine Baranski in the New York production of The Loman Family Picnic. “Christine was phenomenal,” says Glushak. “Watching her work was a huge lesson for me. She struggled with a Jewish accent. She hadn’t done it before and she worked through it with confidence in front of an audience, until she got it.”
Glushak was in the original cast of Sweet Smell of Success with John Lithgow, on Broadway, where she stole her scenes with little more than crossing her legs and rolling her eyes with knowing cynicism. She also toured as Miss Baltimore Crabs in Hairspray.
I wasn’t the least bit surprised, therefore, to see the name “Joanna Glushak” announced in the cast list for the first national company of Mel Brooks’ musical, Young Frankenstein. The show is based on Brooks’ comic 1974 film about an ambitious young doctor who travels to Transylvania and unexpectedly ends up following in his notorious grandfather’s footsteps trying to bring a man, made of body parts, to life. Along the way he’s helped and hindered by a svelte blonde lab assistant, a humpbacked servant, his wealthy and aloof fiancé, and by his grandfather’s housekeeper, Frau Blucher.
Glushak has a glorious singing voice and a gift for comedy. With just a shift of attitude, she can transform her appearance from beautiful to harsh and back again. These are the perfect ingredients to step into the shoes of a character created by Cloris Leachman on the screen and Andrea Martin on Broadway.
“I’ve been doing comedy all my life,” confides Glushak. “When I was a kid, I would impersonate people to entertain my family. Not famous people, but people we encountered every day, like our doorman or a sales clerk. I would observe them and imitate them. My parents would laugh!”
Glushak also gave Young Frankenstein director Susan Stroman plenty to laugh about.
“It’s been a great experience, says Glushak. “Not only is [Stroman] great to work with, but she is so lovely and so caring about the cast and so positive about everything. Because she’s been a performer, herself, so she understands what we go through. She demands a lot. She wants you to be on your game. If that’s the choreography, that is the way she wants to see it. She’s very specific about what she wants, and there’s usually a good reason for it.”
Glushak has been playing Frau Blucher since August 2009. How does she keep it fresh?
“Through discipline and by just loving the role,” she says. “And I remind myself what a joy this show is for the audience—especially for those who remember the film; they laugh before we can even get the lines out. But even children enjoy Young Frankenstein; the adult humor goes right over their heads, and they love the monster and the silly slapstick comedy. They love Igor. They love the ‘Puttin’ on the Ritz’ number.”
(The original trailer for the film can be seen at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mOPTriLG5cU.)
We can expect, after a year and a half on the road, that the Young Frankenstein company will appreciate the famously effusive Buffalo audience, known for its generously unbridled laughter and applause.
Glushak could well stop the show with lines like the comic confession, “He was my boyfriend!”
“We’ve been getting wonderful reactions,” says Glushak, “but audiences can be very different. In my number I recall Frau Blucher’s memories of a really horrible relationship. I think it’s hilarious, but some people find it startling. Well, for them, there is something light and silly just minutes away. The real Mel Brooks fans love every minute.”
For Glushak, a highlight of the national tour has been the chance to meet Mel Brooks.
“That was more than a highlight of the tour,” enthuses Glushak. “That was a highlight of my career! Meeting Mel Brooks was fantastic! And for some reason I wasn’t nervous about doing the show, knowing he was in the audience. We just went out there and we did it, and he really liked it, and he came back stage and was a big fan. It was wonderful. He told me, ‘Good work. You nailed all the jokes!’ It was fantastic! And then he said, ‘You want a picture?’ He knew we’d all want our photograph taken with him, and so I did!”
Young Frankenstein continues at Shea’s through Sunday.blog comments powered by Disqus
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