Friday, July 30, 2010

Reverend's Reviews: Frankenschtick

I will always remember fondly the day in 1975 when my mother picked my brother and I up after school and unexpectedly took us to see Mel Brooks' Young Frankenstein. The now classic spoof of old Universal horror movies made us giggle uncontrollably then, and continues to make me and many other people laugh at the mere mention of it.

Brooks, in the wake of his huge success with turning The Producers into a stage musical, has done the same with Young Frankenstein. Though not as well received as its predecessor on Broadway, its current US tour seems off to a good start. The production just made its Los Angeles debut at the Pantages Theatre on Tuesday night.

The LA run features several performers from the original New York production, most notably two Tony Award winners: the always enjoyable Roger Bart (The Producers, TV's Desperate Housewives) as Dr. Frederick Frankenstein, the role Gene Wilder made famous in the film, and the physically imposing Shuler Hensley (Broadway's Tarzan and Jud Fry in the most recent revival of Oklahoma!) as his Monster. Both are thoroughly entertaining, and no less so than when they are recreating the movie's famous Master-Monster duet on Irving Berlin's "Puttin' on the Ritz."

Other effective, crowd-pleasing performances in the tour include those of Broadway regular Brad Oscar in the dual roles of Inspector Kemp and the Blind Hermit; Cory English as Frankenstein's devoted assistant, Igor; Joanna Glushak as Frau Blucher; and Anne Horak as Inga, the local Transylvania girl brought to life in the original film by Teri Garr. Unfortunately, the role of Elizabeth, Dr. Frankenstein's high society fiancée originally played by Madeline Kahn, wasn't as well-played or -sung by Beth Curry as the others (it may be worth noting that Megan Mullally also had difficulty with the part in New York).

It is equally to the show's benefit and its detriment that the book (co-penned by Brooks and Thomas Meehan) was adapted nearly verbatim from the original screenplay. The film's plot and best jokes — which are essentially all of them — have been retained and remain fresh, ensuring often-riotous audience laughter throughout; on the other hand, there is little in the show apart from the song score and a Starbucks reference that anyone who has viewed the Young Frankenstein movie hasn't seen or heard before. The horses still whinny in terror whenever Frau Blucher's name (which is synonymous with "glue factory") is pronounced, Castle Von Frankenstein's doors continue to sport their notable "knockers," and the Blind Hermit predictably sets the Monster's thumb on fire instead of his cigar. The musical is carried along more by familiarity with Brooks' schtick and nostalgia than anything original.

The songs, however, are a happy exception to this. The musically-gifted Brooks has actually improved on his score for The Producers with Young Frankenstein's more complex, beautifully orchestrated and (most importantly) very funny tunes. Highlights during the performance I attended included "Roll in the Hay," convincingly staged in a "horse"-drawn wagon; "Join the Family Business," a rousing chorus number that culminates in the on-stage assembly of a gigantic Frankenstein monster; and Frau Blucher's hilarious, S&M-tinged "He Vas My Boyfriend."

Young Frankenstein boasts more set changes than I can recall in a recent musical, especially for a touring company. Longtime designer Robin Wagner has done a masterful job, especially with Frankenstein's lab. The soaring, elaborate set includes working pullies and electric gadgetry as well as an operating table that rises to the rafters with the lead actors on it! Peter Kaczorowski's lighting effects and Jonathan Deans' sound design provide great support.

Susan Stroman, a double Tony-winner for her direction and choreography of The Producers, repeats those duties here but without as much success, especially in the dance department. Her dances are serviceable but not noteworthy, although a Russian-inspired segment during "Join the Family Business" and a "Puttin' on the Ritz" chorus line featuring oversized, taps-laden monster boots are impressive.

Brooks is reportedly working now on a musical version of Blazing Saddles. He's a brave man. Young Frankenstein has already shown that it is difficult to capture the same magic twice, let alone three times. If one is yearning, though, for an unquestionably entertaining evening of music and laughs, it's hard to beat Young Frankenstein.

Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Orange County and Long Beach Blade.


  1. While I am sure that comparisons to the original are inevitable, I can't wait until this comes to Dallas! Thanks for your candor.


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