Frankenstein is, of course, not an Italian name. But if you want to translate the zany humor of Mel Brooks’ “Young Frankenstein’ to the stage, who better to tackle the task than two actors of Italian lineage?
“I’ve loved Mel Brooks since I was a kid,” says Devin DeSantis, who pays the role of Dr. Frankenstein in the stage adaptation running at Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook Terrace through March 16. “It’s a blast trying to pay homage to such a classic comedy. In addition to the well-crafted jokes and physical humor, there’s an opportunity to tap into the great comedic subtlety of practically every line and situation that Brooks writes — the one and only Gene Wilder seemed to master this art.”
Yet DeSantis, who traces his Italian lineage on his father’s side to Abruzzo, has an able paisan to lean on in bringing the jokes and jests home. Jeff Dumas, a Jeff Award winner with Italian ancestry on his father’s side and also with roots in Abruzzo, joins DeSantis in the role of Igor.
“To me, the best thing is getting the chance to reinvent a role in a show that hasn’t really been produced in Chicago other than the national tour,” Dumas says. “It’s such an iconic movie with iconic characters. That forces you to walk the fine line of what people expect and what you feel you can bring to the role.”
For both performers, Italian roots contributed mightily to their pursuit of the arts. Dumas’ paternal grandparents were Italian and Italian-French Canadian (hence his last name). “There was always an air of comedy, music and dancing accompanying all of our family gatherings,” he recalls. “What was most pivotal, however, was my father’s influence. He is one of the most naturally funny people I know, was always the one entertaining at weddings and such, and was the one that everyone wanted to dance with: jitterbug, swing, you name it, he knew it.”
“Growing up Italian, for me, was always about family, love, food of course, and doing what brings you joy,” DeSantis says. “Music and laughter brings me great joy, and so it was always easy for me to know what I wanted to do for my career. My grandparents loved to see me perform — they were my biggest fans and gave me all the support I could ask for. And luckily they came with a lot of relatives and friends from their community.”
As for how DeSantis and Dumas create chemistry onstage, it isn’t hard to explain. They know and respect each other’s work, though “Young Frankenstein” marks the first time they’ve shared a stage.
“I’ve seen Jeff in several shows and am so excited to finally work with him myself,” DeSantis says. “Our strong Italian personalities help us get that energy going in those crazy scenes.”
To which Dumas responds, “We’ve known each other for a while but have never worked together. Devin is a ridiculously talented guy, and he brings a whole new take to this role.”
“Young Frankenstein” runs through March 16 at the Drury Lane Theatre, 100 Drury Lane in Oakbrook Terrace. Tickets are $30 to $49, or $50 to $74 for lunch and dinner theater packages. For more information, call the box office at 630-530-0111 or visit drurylane.com.