He plays The Monster in “Young Frankenstein,” the 2007 musical-comedy adaptation of the great Mel Brooks movie. Underneath all of those prosthetics, make-up and wool clothing is a young actor fresh from the University of the Arts in Philadelphia.
“I always feel terrible for my dressers at the end of the night when they have to unzip me,” said Donovan, by phone from a tour stop in Colorado. “I’m drenched with sweat.”
And when the cast goes out for a late dinner?
“People have no idea who I am,” said Donovan.
To quote a line in the show, he plays a “7-foot-tall, 4-foot-wide gorilla with the mind of a child” who gets to galumph around the stage doing tap-dance routines.
“Young Frankenstein” faithfully follows the 1974 black-and-white film version, with a number of new Mel Brooks songs added.
“It takes the most popular moments and either delivers them as an homage or adds something extra,” said Donovan. “For instance, one of the movie’s most famous lines – ‘roll in the hay’ – is now expanded into an entire song.”
It has all of the characters familiar from the movie, including Dr. Frederick Frankenstein (Fronkensteen), Igor (Eye-gore), Inga and Frau Blucher. And, of course, The Monster, played so memorably by Peter Boyle.
Think of it as the natural successor to “The Producers,” another classic Mel Brooks movie that became a Broadway hit. “The Producers” ran 2,502 performances on Broadway and brought home 12 Tony Awards. When “Young Frankenstein” debuted on Broadway in 2007, the critical consensus was: It’s no “Producers.”
Yet plenty of critics liked the classic Brooks gags and Susan Stroman’s direction and choreography.
Clive Barnes of the New York Post said it was “the Broadway musical at its dizziest, glitziest and funniest.” The Hollywood Reporter called it a “hilarious crowd-pleaser.”
“Young Frankenstein” went on to play 485 performances before closing in early 2009, with three Tony nominations, but no awards.
Donovan said the touring version delivers the show with the original Stroman direction, choreography and production values.
“We have massive set pieces, including a huge laboratory set,” Donovan said. “We created the entire hermit cottage from the movie.”
Not to mention a haunted Transylvanian castle.
And as for special effects, there’s an “operating Tesla coil which actually shoots out something like 100,000 volts of electricity,” said Donovan.
Isn’t that … dangerous?
“Safety first,” Donovan said. “We always have to be at least five feet from the Tesla coil when it fires.”
Donovan has to be extra careful, since The Monster has to “tap-dance his heart out,” all while wearing those enormous platform boots. In his big numbers, this galoot has to move with gargantuan flair.
“I’ve got to find that balance between The Monster and Fred Astaire,” Donovan said.