Actor does the mash, Mel Brooks style

Apr 21 2011 - 8:07pm

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Photo by PAUL KOLNIK
Preston Truman Boyd as the Monster and David Benoit as the blind hermit star in the touring production of the Mel Brooks musical “Young Frankenstein,” opening Tuesday at the Capitol Theatre in Salt Lake City.
Preston Truman Boyd
Photo by PAUL KOLNIK
Preston Truman Boyd as the Monster and David Benoit as the blind hermit star in the touring production of the Mel Brooks musical “Young Frankenstein,” opening Tuesday at the Capitol Theatre in Salt Lake City.
Preston Truman Boyd

It's not that easy being green -- especially when you're wearing a fat suit, prosthetic makeup and 6-inch platform shoes while trying to quickly navigate the backstage darkness of a theater for a quick scene change.

But Preston Truman Boyd wouldn't have it any other way.

"It's a little physically taxing, but you know, we do crazy stuff for our art form," said the 25-year-old actor playing the Monster in the touring production of "Young Frankenstein," which arrives Tuesday at the Capitol Theatre in Salt Lake City.

"Preston Truman Boyd seems made to order as the big, green misunderstood monster machine," wrote reviewer Jim Carnes in The Sacramento Bee earlier this week, where the show was playing. The actor was enjoying some nonmonster off time at a Sacramento golf course when he kindly agreed to a telephone interview with the Standard-Examiner.

Boyd graduated with a degree in musical theater from the University of Cincinnati. He has acted in New York City productions, a soap opera and several regional roles. As an actor, Boyd is accustomed to learning lines, but memorizing lines hasn't been the challenge for this character.

Because the Monster has a brain belonging to "Abby Normal" -- thanks to a wide-eyed hunchback named Igor (pronounced Eye-gor) -- the creature has to find other ways to communicate.

"It's a lot of fun to use my acting chops in a way where I don't get to use words," Boyd said. "I get to have a little liberty with the different sounds I make and the different points I try to get across without words."

Normally 6 foot 3 inches, Boyd grows about 5 inches in height for each show, thanks to his shoes, a bald cap and a forehead prosthetic. Add an ugly cheek scar and some green makeup, and it's alive!

Before each performance, it takes about 1 1/2 hours to transform this Minnesota native into the lumbering, grunting creature who can tap dance as well as terrify villagers.

" 'Putting on the Ritz' is such a fun number and a big iconic moment in the whole show that a lot of people are there to hear," Boyd said of the showstopping tap dance routine. "It's fun to be in the center of it all."

That Irving Berlin number is incorporated into a musical score written by Mel Brooks, who took his Oscar-nominated (for screenwriting) comedy smash and turned it into a Broadway sensation in 2007.

The 1974 film

"Young Frankenstein" is based on the classic Mary Shelley novel and pays homage to the 1931 film starring Boris Karloff. The 1974 movie was written by Brooks and Gene Wilder, who also starred in the film as Frederick (or Froderick) Frankenstein (or Fronkensteen).

The film also starred Teri Garr, Cloris Leachman, Marty Feldman, Madeline Kahn, Gene Hackman, and Peter Boyle as the Monster.

"It's a brilliant, brilliant movie and those actors are so incredible that it's an honor to tell the story onstage," Boyd said. "My dad was a big Mel Brooks fan, and one of his favorite movies of all time was 'Young Frankenstein.' "

His dad was such a fan, in fact, that Boyd said he was probably a little too young to fully appreciate the movie when he first saw it.

"I didn't really understand it," he said. "It was in black and white, so it didn't grab my attention."

But Boyd said he came to appreciate the film more when he was older and had more life experience. He said the musical doesn't stray far from the film.

Favorite moment

Frederick Frankenstein, an esteemed New York brain surgeon and professor, inherits a castle and laboratory in Transylvania. Will he run away from his family's tortured past and return to his beautiful -- but high-maintenance -- fiance Elizabeth, or will he follow in the footsteps of his deranged grandfather, the genius Victor Von Frankenstein?

With the help of Igor, Inga and Frau BlAocher, body parts are soon collected, and Boyd's character comes to life. The story unfolds in the forbidding Castle Frankenstein and the foggy moors of Transylvania Heights, with a raucous score that includes "The Transylvania Mania" and "He Vas My Boyfriend."

"It's stays very true to the movie," Boyd said. "In the end, my brain is fixed and I have a little scene where I save the doctor and I have a little song."

Boyd said his favorite moment comes toward the end when Igor and Dr. Frankenstein share a close moment. The monster is on the slab, waiting for his brain to be "fixed" when the good doctor pats Igor on the back and a resounding 'thump' echoes throughout the theater.

Igor's hump isn't where it was before, much to Dr. Frankenstein's bewilderment. The Monster just lies there, waiting for his new brain, but Boyd is smiling inside.

"The on-running hump gag throughout the whole show still gets me, even after 620 performances," Boyd said.

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