Just when “The Producers,” Mel Brooks’ musical adaptation of his 1968 film, has about run its course on Broad- way, Brooks mounts another equally ambitious project, “The New Mel Brooks Musical Young Frankenstein.” Reuniting most of his team from “The Producers”: Tom Meehan as co-writer, Susan Stroman as director/choreographer, Robin Wagner as set designer, William Ivey Long as costume designer, and Glenn Kelly as music supervisor and arranger, the show seems like a sure winner. Anticipated as the smash hit of the season, with premium seating in the orchestra going for $450 a pop, the show has had New York buzzing for several months.
And it is smashing: lavish, big, loud, and populated by no fewer than six big- name stars, it is the musical show to see this year. On opening night the audience was electrified, erupting in applause with every new character’s entrance and every well-loved line. It was a glittering night of tuxedos and evening dresses, the way theater used to be: during intermission I bumped into Joan Rivers and Goldie Hawn; when the play ended I walked out with Regis Philbin on one side of me and Billy Crystal on the other. Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder both came on stage for curtain calls. Magical.
But while “Young Frankenstein” will most assuredly enjoy smashing success at the box office, is it a smashing production? Not completely. (And I think that’s a good thing – those $450 ticket prices are going to come down, and you’ll be able to see the show without having to book it six months in advance.) Yes, it’s great campy fun, with over-the-top performances and glitzy dance numbers. But I think Brooks’ meticulous faithful- ness (or is it merely laziness?) to the 30- year-old movie script, which was itself a parody of 1930s horror films, is a handicap here. Audiences laugh with sentimental good wishes, but they aren’t surprised and delighted with anything new. Still, what the show lacks in script, it makes up in its big bold sets and glorious choreography, especially “Puttin’ on the Ritz,” when the entire cast appears in monster-sized tap shoes.
Some of my favorite Broadway stars appear in this production, with the women outshining the men. Megan Mullally (Karen in “Will & Grace”) establishes her fickle character in the hilarious “Don’t Touch Me” early in Act I, then disappears and is sorely missed until she finally returns with her show- stopping “Deep Love” in Act 2. Sutton Foster (who leads the cast of a new musical every season) learned to yodel for her bawdy “Roll in the Hay” as Inga, Frankenstein’s randy laboratory assistant. That first number is full of promise, but though she is lovely in this role, she is neither as randy nor as funny as a fraulein named Inga is expected to be. The true genius in this show is Andrea Martin (“My Big Fat Greek Wedding”) as the spooky Frau Blucher. Her comic timing and campy accent are spot on throughout the production.
Meanwhile, Roger Bart, who was deliciously outrageous as the support- ing character Carmen Ghia in “The Producers,” seems to be pacing himself as the lead in this show. He is good, but his Frederick Frankenstein never approaches Gene Wilder’s near-manic zaniness. (This may be due to a back injury he suffered during previews, so his performance may improve in a week or two.) The most hilarious moment of the show occurred in the first act, when a revolving bookcase malfunctioned. Bart gamely attempted to cover for the malfunction, adlibbing as the bookcase revolved back and forth until finally he
Lavish, big, loud, and populated by no fewer than six big-name stars, it is the musical show to see this year.
said, “I’ve run out of ideas, Inga. Can you think of anything?” followed by “Ah, f*** it!” Eventually the bookcase righted itself and Inga picked up the scene, announcing, “Oh look! A passageway!” as though they hadn’t been mucking about in it for the past five minutes. I love live theater.
At the Hilton Theater for probably the next ten years, try to see “Young Frankenstein” with the original cast. After the Christmas rush, look for discount tickets on broadwaybox.com.