New York City Theater
Hilton Theatre, Manhattan
Ok, so it’s not “The Producers”! That award-winner would have to be a tough act to follow. And, inevitably, comparisons are made. “The Producers” was Broadway’s most-acclaimed recent show, sweeping the Tony Awards and running for 2,501 performances.
But octogenarian Mel Brooks still has his incomparable moments in “Young Frankenstein,” his latest Broadway offering. When Andrea Martin sings “He Vas My Boy Friend,” it’s sheer Brooks shining through. And other moments also shine, as when Brooks and company take the show through a riotous hay ride, and later, when the lab monster explodes into life.
The show’s full title—“The New Mel Brooks Musical Young Frankenstein”—says it all. Brooks has adapted his own well-loved 1974 film. The multi-talented master of shtick has written both music and lyrics, and has co-written the book with Thomas Meehan (his writing partner in “The Producers”). On hand are other top professionals, some culled from “The Producers” (choreographer/director Susan Stroman and actor Roger Bart).
Brooks has borrowed heavily from every horror story known to film and legend. The scene is Transylvania (permitting Brooks’ later song “Transylvania Mania”), with its eerie castle, deep dungeon, threatening housekeeper, and mad scientist’s lab. Frederick Frankenstein, a New York doctor and research scientist, has just inherited the castle from his grandfather. The old man had once created a monster who wreaked havoc in the village. Initially, of course, young Frankenstein has no plans to stay on—until he meets the luscious blonde Inga, who offers herself as his lab assistant. It then follows, as the night the day, that Frankenstein stays and creates a new monster.
Outstanding work from the design team sparks life into the show, and clearly, the show’s sizeable budget has not been spared. In the hay ride scene (titled, appropriately, “Roll in the Hay”) designer Robin Wagner has created the rear of a hay wagon. Beyond, in the dark, can be seen the heads of horses. With audio-visual help, the countryside rushes by and viewers join Inga and Frankenstein to hurtle forward into space. Costumes (William Ivey Long) and lighting designer (Peter Kaczrowski) also provide first-rate work.
But the show’s performers offer good news and bad. Several are outstanding, but the leads disappoint. Andrea Martin (as Frau Blucher, the housekeeper) is a treasure, who sounds just the right exaggerated note, as does Christopher Fitzgerald’s Igor, the humpbacked factotum. Both are pros with strong stage presences, as they play out their caricatures. Shuler Hensley, as the Monster, and Megan Mullally, as Frankenstein’s frigid fiancée, also give fine performances, coming together in a hilarious love scene. It is the leads—Roger Bart and Sutton Foster—who disappoint, shockingly so, given their Broadway credentials. But Bart is often wooden as Frankenstein (one thinks longingly of Gene Wilder in the film role), and Foster plays Inga as a sweet girlish ingénue, not the blonde bombshell she is meant to be.
As to the production song-and-dance numbers, all are lively and fun to watch, but not startlingly innovative. Broadway business as usual.
Yet whatever its shortcomings, “Young Frankenstein” provides the expected entertainment. And given the current state of Broadway (with 27 of the 35 shows dark as labor negotiations stall), “Young Frankenstein” is the show to see.
November 17, 2007