Young Frankenstein

young_frankenstein.jpgI'm actually one of the few who never saw Mel Brooks's movie Young Frankenstein. I also felt that his Broadway hit The Producers, while a lot of fun, didn't quite live up to all its hype. But when some good seats opened up for Brooks's musical version of Young Frankenstein, which opened late last year at the Hilton Theater, I went for them. I had read both the pros and cons about Young Frankenstein and went in with minimal expectations. Given that background, did it deliver? Yes and no.

Overall, I found the show to be modest fun. It's quite a visual spectacle, with some terrific Robin Wagner sets being one of the definite highlights. The musical is wonderfully atmospheric, there are some laughs and some mild chuckles, and there are a good number of basically enjoyable production numbers. But even with low expectations, I wanted more from a big musical like this. Yes, I laughed a decent amount, and some of the gags were quite funny, but the non-stop, sustained hilarity needed for a comic musical just wasn't there. Brooks's music is pleasant enough, and several songs are tuneful and fun, but certainly not memorable or distinguished, and it doesn't match the work he did on the somewhat overrated but still better score for The Producers.

Most importantly, the thrills and excitement that make for strong musical theater just aren't present in this show. Director/choreographer Susan Stroman's work isn't bad, but nothing is inspired. This is a musical that doesn't have the heart or emotional pull that can make up for a lack of excitement in other areas.

Young Frankenstein is, of course, a spoof of the Frankenstein story, as the original Dr. Frankenstein's grandson, Frederick, wanting no part of his late grandfather's work, travels from New York to Transylvania in 1934 because he has inherited his family's estate. He meets up with plenty of strange characters and soon finds himself urged to "Join the Family Business" and, eventually, picks up where his grandfather left off, which ultimately means creating a monster. As would be expected from Mel Brooks, there is plenty of shtick and low humor. For me, the show starts on a very mediocre note at best. The solid production numbers help things pick up, starting with one of Brooks's best songs, "Together Again," sung by Frederick and his new servant Igor, played by the scene-stealing Christopher Fitzgerald. And in Act Two, the hermit scene, which I'm told comes from the movie, works nicely, and the show is at its best from that point on. Irving Berlin's "Puttin' on the Ritz" is included, as it was in the movie, and it's a fine production number, but it still falls a bit short of being magical and special. Megan Mullally of Will and Grace fame scores with a funny "Deep Love," and the final scene is a good one, ending the show in a fairly winning fashion. But it's still not quite enough.

In addition to Fitzgerald, Andrea Martin is also a standout in the cast as Frau Blucher, the rather mysterious housekeeper at the Frankenstein Castle. As Frederick, Roger Bart does solid work but, perhaps due to the material, the performance never quite rises to a higher level. Shuler Hemsley does quite well as the monster, and Fred Applegate has a lot of fun as the hermit.

I'm glad I saw Young Frankenstein. I did, basically, have an enjoyable time and I certainly was never bored. But, even with modest expectations, I found myself wanting a bit more than what Brooks and company deliver, and I never was close to being as excited as I can get at totally satisfying musicals. The audience seemed to enjoy themselves, but I didn't sense the wild enthusiasm you feel at the most popular shows. The monster may live on stage, but Young Frankenstein isn't the monster hit that Broadway was looking for. - James Miller

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Mr. Miller is a former Showtime exec who has spent many an evening transfixed by the bright lights of Broadway and Off-Broadway.

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