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A CurtainUp Review
Young Frankenstein

With Additional Thoughts by Simon Saltzman

Young Frankenstein
Shuler Hensley & Roger Bart in Young Frankenstein
(Photo: Paul Kolnik)
Pronounce it Frankenstein or Frankensteen
It doesn't add up to something that simply must be seen.

Sure, there's eye-popping stagecraft galore
Plus a sexy monster for touch-me-not Elizabeth to adore.

But can hilarious, shitcky bits
like Monster and Victor "Putting on the Ritz"
Make this musical Frankensteen
taste less like Mel style Lean Cuisine?

To answer my doggerel's query — Yes and no.

Theater goers looking for a show that screams Broadway glitz are likely to feel that they're getting a nourishing meal rather than a re-heated microwaved repast of familiar ingredients. Robin Wagner's sets are spectacular and William Ivey Long's costumes colorful and suited to every scene

This monster (Shuler Hensley), unlike the bare-chested monster of the Off-Broadway Frankenstein based on Mary Shelley's novel, is a very credible monster and yet manages to be sexy enough to make the Frankenstein version of the Jewish American princess (an appropriately glamorous Megan Mullaly) swoon. Though the songs are pretty much of the no-hum variety, they're peppy and melodic. And you've got to admire Brooks' for his knack for robbing from here, there and everywhere — including Gilbert and Sullivan's patter songs, Fiddler on the Roof's Teyve, Al Jolson, and even himself ("Join the Family Business", is likely to have you humming "Don't be a smarty/ Come and join the Nazi Party" from The Producers). Despite the unmemorable music and the fact that having many of the lyrics drowned out by the scream-level amplification may be no loss, there are better numbers (like Frederick and Igor's "Together Again" and Martin's "He Was My Boyfriend" ) plus some mentioned in Simon Saltzman's more enthusiastic take on the show below.

I'm, not a great fan of either of the movies that led to the creation of the Brooks musical hit-making machine. For me his most memorable funny creation is the inspired 2000 Year Old Man skit he did with Carl Reiner. Still, when I watched the Frankenstein movie again a few months ago I could see why it developed a cult following. But this translation into live musical theater is like watching a colorized version of a black and white film, and instead of having the color enrich the original, seeing it drain away a lot of its special-ness. That's not to say that I didn't enjoy some parts (I would say a third, mostly in the second act): Sutton Foster's yodeling. . . that terrific horse-drawn hayride in act one with the smartly screen-projected trees giving a sense of a real ride through a forest. . . Andrea Martin's and Christopher Fitzgerald's terrific performances as the only truly true to the noirish look and feel of the movie's Frau Blucher and the hump-backed Igor. . .and the Monster's disastrous but hilarious visit to Fred Applegate's blind hermit.

Unfortunately, I found not only Brooks' music so-so but Susan Stroman's choreography as well. While the dancers are energetic, it isn't until the middle of the second act that the choreography, and the show in general, really spring to life when Frederick (Roger Bart) and the tamed and show-biz trained Monster take the stage of the Loew's Transylvania Heights Theater in top hats and tails to perform Irving Berlin's "Putting On the Ritz." Here's where Stroman shows the courage to depart from the movie cleverly expanding the movie scene into a big production number that includes the ensemble.

While Bart and Hensley are dandy as the odd-ball hoofers and singers, Bart often seems more a support player than the show's star and good as Hensley is, you can't help wishing you could hear more of the fine baritone he displayed in Oklahoma.

In the opening number the chorus sings "Things are swell now, / Ring that bell now / We're in heaven/No more Hell now. . . " Well, Young Frankenstein is not Hell like some clunkers I've seen, but Heaven? I wish. . .

To read Curtainup's multiple reviews to go here.

Additional Thoughts by Simon Saltzman

The good thing about Mel Brooks' Young Frankenstein is that it is exactly what everyone should have expected it to be, simply amusing and fun, faithful to its now classic source, and incredibly spectacular- - - a $15 million eyeful of grand special effects and a gorgeous line-up of long-limbed babes. It's the kind of show that no one except Brooks would have the nerve to put on any more, a gussied up vaudeville entertainment with elements of bawdy burlesque. Everything and everyone is a put-on. Even Brooks' audaciously derivative score deliberately, but winningly spoofs the entire musical theater canon from Sondheim to Friml.

There is no attempt by Brooks to apologize for his exuberantly brash style, joke-driven perspective or lovably low class brand of humor. His is exactly the kind of humor that was favored in countless Saturday nights shows in the Borscht Belt of yore. It served its audiences then as it will now. The bad thing (and it's not so bad), is that Young Frankenstein is comprised almost solely up of hoary shtick and is definitely not in the same inimitable league with The Producers, despite the input of choreographer-director Susan Stroman.

Although Roger Bart has elected to play the young scientist with a decidedly more restrained inclination toward sheer lunacy than did Gene Wilder in the film and seems to exist for the most part in his own orbit, the rest of the cast swirls deliriously about and with unbridled delight within Brook's universe. There are plenty of laugh-out-loud scenes. A bumpy hayride to the castle allows the effervescent Sutton Foster, as Inga, a chance to not only show off her yodel ("Roll in The Hay,") but gorgeous gams. Just the mere mention of Frau Blucher's name is enough to make the horses whinny, but it is her portrayer Andrea Martin who comes close to stopping the show singing the Brecht-Weil styled "He Vas My Boyfriend. ," Megan Mullay, as the spoiled society dame Elizabeth, also pulls off a crowd-pleaser with the purposely insinuating "Deep Love. ,"

There are laughs aplenty in the scene in which the blind hermit, as wonderfully played by Fred Applegate, disastrously attempts to be hospitable to the monster (Shuler Hensley), but he is only successful in scalding him and setting his finger afire. As expected, "Puttin' on the Ritz," is the show's piece de resistance allowing Hensely and the entire company to tap in monster footwear and top hat and tails through a 1930s styled production number. Just know that a Brooks show is not going to be either intellectually stimulating or artistically ground-breaking. With that in mind, you should find this excursion to Transylvania well worth the price of admission— well maybe just the non-premium price, or better still a discount.
Book by Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan
Music and Lyrics by Mel Brooks
Directed and choreographed by Susan Stroman
Cast: Fred Applegate (Kemp), Roger Bart (Dr. Frederick Frankenstein), Christopher Fitzgerald (Igor) , Sutton Foster (Inga) , Shuler Hensley (The Monster), Andrea Martin (Frau Blucher), Megan Mullally (Elizabeth )
Ensemble: Heather Ayers, Jim Borstelmann, Paul Castree, Jennifer Lee Crowl, Jack Doyle, Renee Feder, James Gray, Amy Heggins, Eric Jackson, Kristin Marie Johnson, Matthew Labanca, Kevin Ligon, Barrett Martin, Linda Mugleston , Christina Marie Norrup, Justin Patterson, Brian Shepard, Sarrah Strimel, Craig Waletzko, Courtney Young
Sets: Robin Wagner
Costumes: William Ivey Long
Lighting: Peter Kaczorowski
Sound: Jonathan Deans
Musical Director: Patrick S. Brady
Orchestrations: Doug Besterman
Musical Supervisor: Glen Kelly
Music Coordinator: John Miller
Orchestra—Conductor: Patrick S. Brady; Associate Conductor: Gregory J. DluLos; Assistant Conductor: David Ciursky; Woodwinds: Vincent Della-Rocca, Steven J. Greenfield, Charles Pillow, Frank Santagata; Trumpets: Don Downs. Glenn Drewes, Scott Harrell; Tenor Trombone: Timothy Sessions; Bass Trombone: Mike Christianson; French Horns: Patrick Pridemore. Judy Yin-Chi Lee; Concert Master: Rick Dolan: Violins: Ashley D. Horne, Helen H. Kim: Violas: Maxine Roach. Debra Shufelt-Dine; Celli: Lanra Bontrager. Chungsun Kim: String Bass: Bob Rennino: Drums: Percy Cavari; Percussion: Charlie Descarfino: KeyboardI: Gregory J. Dlugos; Keyboard 2: David Gursky: Keyboard 3: Patrick S. Brady
Running time: 2 hours 40 minutes with an intermission
Hilton Theatre 213 West 42nd Street (7th/8th Avs)
From 10/11/07; opening 11/08/07
Closing 1/04/09 after 30 previews and 484 regular performances

Looking for Young Frankenstein tickets? Gotickets has them.

Musical Numbers
Act One
  • The Happiest Town/Villagers
  • The Brain/ Fredcrick, Students
  • Please Don't Touch Me/Elizabeth and Voyagers
  • Together Again/Frederick, Igor
  • Roll in the Hay/Inga, Frederick
  • Join the Family Business/Victor, Frederick, Ancestors
  • He Vas My Boyfriend/Frau Blucher
  • The Law/Krmp and Villagers
  • Life, Life/Frederick
  • Welcome to Transylvania / Transylvania Quartet
  • Transylvania Mania/ Igor, Frederick. Inga, Kemp and Villagers
Act Two
  • He's Loose /Kemp and Villagers
  • Listen to Your Heart/Inga
  • Surprise / Elizabeth. Igor, Frau Blucher, Sasha, Masha. Basha, Tasha and Bob
  • Please Send Me Someone/ Hermit
  • Man About Town/Frederick
  • Puttin' on the Ritz (Music & Lyrics by Irving Berlin) /The Monster, Inga. Igor, Frau Blucher, Ensemble
  • Deep Love /Elizabeth
  • Frederick's Soliloquy/Frederick
  • Deep Love (Reprise) The Monster
  • Finale Ultimo/ The Company


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