nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
November 14, 2007
[Editor's Note: I'm assuming that anyone reading this knows the story of Young Frankenstein already. But just in case, here's a link to imdb's info on the film, where you can find a synopsis, character list, etc.]
Is the new Mel Brooks musical Young Frankenstein entertaining? You bet. The source material, the 1974 film comedy that I, at least, think is Brooks's finest work, is irresistible, perhaps even indestructible. Brooks and his collaborators have faithfully put almost all of it up on the Hilton Theatre stage, and the audience anticipates all the gags seemingly in unison. "Walk this way"; "There wolf. There castle."; "What knockers!"; "Blucher! (neigh!)"; "Put the candle back"; "Abby Normal"—they're all here, more or less exactly the way we remember them. And, though we remember them, we laugh.
There are quite a few heroes and heroines responsible for what works well here. First and foremost is Andrea Martin, who steals the show whenever she's on stage, re-creating the role of Frau Blucher in her own image (something that none of her co-stars is able to accomplish for themselves), even trumping an iconic moment from the original with something hilarious that's purely hers. Her natural sunny presence, which ought to be at odds with the stern housekeeper she portrays, radiates goodwill and good humor. She's a delight, and a hoot, and a thrill to see in something so well-suited to her singular comic talents.
Set designer Robin Wagner, costume designer William Ivey Long, lighting designer Peter Kaczorowski, wigs/hair designer Paul Huntley, makeup designer Angelina Avallone, and special effects designer Marc Brickman have done a splendid job realizing the look of the film on stage. Wagner and Brickman in particular have worked real wonders here, especially in their recreation of the laboratory: the fake electrodes and wires and switches crackle and light up and explode quite effectively, giving theatre-goers their money's worth of one-of-a-kind spectacle.
Kudos, too, to Christopher Fitzgerald, who is quite funny as Igor, and gets to show off his considerable talents as loose-limbed comic and dancer; Sutton Foster as Inga (ditto); and Shuler Hensley, who dominates the show's second act as the Creature. Roger Bart acquits himself nicely in the title role as Dr. Frankenstein's grandson Frederick, though he's limited by its nature, which mostly makes him straight man to the eccentric bunch of second bananas portrayed by his co-stars.
And of course credit is due Brooks himself, whose sense for gags—the older and hoarier the better—remains unmatched.
Now, is Young Frankenstein good? Not really; sticklers could easily identify any number of flaws: the sound is often fuzzy, Susan Stroman's direction is imprecise and her choreography is lackluster, Brooks's score is by-the-numbers, the book (co-written by Brooks and Thomas Meehan) is often sloppily structured, and Megan Mullally is badly miscast in the Madeline Kahn role of Elizabeth, Frederick's frigid fiancee. The centerpiece of the show is, of course, "Putting on the Ritz," which has been elongated unnecessarily into an anti-climactic spectacular featuring the entire company; it's a sad miscalculation because after Bart and Hensley do the first chorus (hilariously; show-stoppingly: honest), there's nowhere else to go in this number—Stroman and Brooks should have left well enough alone.
My sense is that while Brooks's last Broadway outing, The Producers, was based in the world of musical comedy and thus fit neatly on stage, Young Frankenstein is a parody of horror movies and fits better on screen. So we don't have a work of art, here, exactly—but we do have an evening that's a great deal of fun, good-natured and filled with laughs, satisfying perhaps for its familiarity (rather than in spite of it). I had a good time, and I imagine most audience members in a good mood will, too.