Book: Mel Brooks & Thomas Meehan
Music & Lyrics: Mel Brooks
Direction & Choreography: Susan Stroman
Reviewer: Mark Clegg
It’s been ten years since Mel Brooks debuted his sophomore musical Young Frankenstein on Broadway. Greeted with mixed reviews and living in the shadow of its predecessor The Producers, the musical lasted just over a year before touring the US and then basically disappearing. Only now is it getting resurrected as a new streamlined production premiering in the UK in Newcastle before transferring directly the London’s Garrick Theatre in October.
The plot is the same as that of the 1974 Brooks movie on which it is based: brilliant American brain specialist Dr. Frederick Frankenstein (“it’s pronounced Fronkensteen”) reluctantly travels to Transylvania to settle his late grandfather’s estate. Arriving at the castle he soon finds himself drawn into the late Baron’s research into reanimating dead tissue. This, of course, leads to the creation of a monstrous creature that terrorises the local village. However, this being a Mel Brooks spoof means there are a lot of surprises – and laughs – along the way.
This production sees the script being slightly rewritten from the original Broadway version, a few songs dropped (including The Happiest Town & Join the Family Business) and a few new songs added (It Could Work & Hang Him Til He’s Dead).
While perhaps not as consistently funny or memorably melodious as The Producers, Young Frankenstein is still a hilarious romp, enjoyably parodying musicals as much as it parodies monster movies. It is unapologetically old fashioned in its structure and presentation, with Brooks fully embracing classic musical comedy and vaudeville in his jokes, lyrics, and tunes. Susan Stroman’s brilliantly witty direction and choreography emphasise the comedy in every aspect of the script and score. This is perfectly illustrated in the Monster leading the entire company in a full white-tie and tails version of Irving Berlin’s Puttin’ on the Ritz which has the audience rolling in the aisles.
The cast is superb. Hadley Fraser as Frederick is dynamic and energetic throughout; his balance of hardly-contained hysteria brilliantly balanced with an easy charm and charisma as well as perfect comic timing. His beautiful assistant Inga is played by Summer Strallen, whose grace and gymnastic skill is matched by an equally lovely singing voice, while Dianne Pilkington as his fiancé Elizabeth takes a relatively small role and almost steals the entire show, particularly in the show-stopping Please Don’t Touch Me. Leslie Joseph is wonderful as the Teutonic Frau Blucher (insert frightened horse noise here) and Shuler Hensley (reprising his role on Broadway) is the perfect Monster: his scene with Patrick Clancy as the blind Hermit is the highlight of the second act. Finally Ross Noble almost runs away with the complete show as Igor: his physicality and timing along with surprisingly excellent song and dance skills immediately dispelling any concerns of stunt casting.
The lighting, sound, and sets are all very good without any of them being over the top. Amusing use of shadow and projections open up the settings while retaining the feel of a Universal horror movie, and copious use of flying sparks and flashing lightning add to the spooky atmosphere. Don’t be too scared though: a few risqué gags aside, this is a show that the entire family can and will enjoy.
Young Frankenstein is a hilarious treasure, swap your schwanzstucker for a ticket if you have to.
Runs until 9 September 2017 prior to West End transfer | Image: Contributed