Wednesday, October 14, 2009

YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN

‘YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN, a comedy of errors, some intentional, others not

The opening of this year’s Broadway series was slightly delayed. As the audience collected in the lobby on opening night, the technical crew of ‘THE MEL BROOKS MUSICAL YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN,’ was feverishly attempting to get the pieces parts of the stage scenery to cooperate. Assuming that they had everything under control, the audience was let in. We sat for a while, and then Gina Vernaci, the dynamo who serves as the Vice President of Theatricals and is responsible for booking the shows that appear on Play House Square stages, came on the stage to explain what was going on. About an hour after the original starting time, the curtain went up on Transylvania, circa 1934.

Yes, this is a musical version of ‘YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN,’ the Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder 1974 comedy movie. Brooks has supposedly stated that that film was his best movie. (I favor ‘BLAZZING SADDLES.”)

This version has a book by Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan with music and lyrics by Brooks. It is a parody of the horror film genre, especially the 1931 adaptation of Mary Shelley's ‘FRANKENSTEIN’ and its 1939 sequel, ‘SON OF FRANKENSTEIN.’

The musical opened on Broadway on November 8, 2007 to very mixed reviews. The New York production closed after 484 performances.

The plot, which is largely carried over from the movie, has some scenes that are expanded as musical numbers, and many gags have been added or updated. It concerns young Dr. Frankenstein (“that's Fronkensteen”) as he attempts to complete his grandfather's masterwork and bring a corpse to life. Together with his odd, but endearing helper Igor (“that's Eye-gor”), his curvaceous lab assistant Inga (“that’s Een-gu”), he succeeds, But, due to implanting the wrong brain (Igor dropped and stepped on the desired brain), Frankenstein succeeds in creating a monster who scares the bejeepers out of the Transylvanians, and sings, dances and seduces Frankenstein’s fiancĂ©.

As is typical of Brooks, the double entendres, the sexual allusions and illusions, and the slapstick flow forth. The silliness convulsed my 13-year old grandson, who I took along to indicate if kids should attend (there were quite a few on opening night). Though many of the allusions went right past him, enough hit straight on, causing him, with a sly braces-filled smirk to conclude, “This is definitely NOT a show for young kids!”

The technical problems of the evening didn’t stop with the late opening curtain. About two-thirds of the way through the first act, as the audience watched in amusement, set pieces that came from the fly gallery, failed to mesh with pieces on the floor. The results? The curtain fell and Ms. Vernaci appeared again, this time with Roger Bart, who plays Frederick Frankenstein (“that’s Fronkensteen”). The duo did everything but a soft shoe routine to fill in time. Finally, Igor (“that’s Eye-gor”) ran on stage, grabbed Bart and dragged him off, leaving Vernaci to make a hasty exit as the curtain rose once again.

Fortunately, there were no other problems and the show concluded to a traditional Cleveland standing ovation, as the patrons fled down the aisle, probably going straight to work or to have breakfast, rather than home to bed. (Really, the show, with the interruptions ran a little over three hours. It just seemed longer.)

I saw the Broadway production, and was not enamored. I liked this version better, maybe because of all the funny things that happened outside of the script, and the ad-libbing that Igor (“that’s Eye-gor”) did, stating that the mechanical problems were not caused by him. In spite of those plusses, I still don’t love the show.

Roger Bart, as Frankenstein (“That’s Fran….,”enough…I’ve done that joke about as many times as Brooks wrote it into the script), was not fun enough. He needed more of a comic twist and a more farcical characterization. Bart, who played the role on Broadway, and who is probably best known to the audience as George, the scheming pharmacist in TVs ‘DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES,’ is likeable, but not laughable. Shuler Hensley (the monster) is a hoot in “Putting on the Ritz,” but could have played the part even broader in his other scenes. Cory English, who portrayed Igor on Broadway, was delightful. And, let’s not over-look the equines (Lawrence Alexander and Geo Seery), who upstaged the actors in the scene in which the horses appeared.

The show stoppers were “Join the Family Business” and “Puttin’ on the Ritz.”

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: If you love schtick, if you love Mel Brooks’ silliness, you’ll probably appreciate ‘YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN.’ However, if you are expecting to be as entertained as you were with Brooks’ ‘THE PRODUCERS,’ I think you’ll be disappointed. And though Alex, my grandson, gave the show an 8 out of 10 for the humor, dancing and singing, please follow his advice and think carefully before taking young children or tweens.