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Puttin’ on the Sh**: Mel Brooks’ Disastrous Young Frankenstein

Written by: Ron Bricker


Image First and foremost I am a huge fan of Mel Brooks. To this day, I still find Robin Hood: Men in Tights, Spaceballs, History of the World, Part 1, and Young Frankenstein to be absolutely piss-in-your-pants hilarious. So, when it was first announced that Young Frankenstein would be brought back to life and adapted for the stage I was on cloud nine. But then I came back down to earth and realized that this could be a complete and utter disaster, and shatter my love for a cult classic. And boy was I right…about it being a disaster that is.

Before I go into why I despised this sorry excuse for a production, I also have to give you a bit of back-story…rather a tidbit. I did not like The Producers on Broadway either (BLASPHEMY!). It was a hammy, over-produced, money-making mess.

Anyone who is familiar with Mel Brooks’ classic re-telling of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein can probably quote every nutty line until the cows come home. Therefore, when the curtains rise and silly lines of text are projected onto a backdrop of Transylvania Castle and you hear that violin playing you immediately tingle all over because you feel that you are about to witness one of your favorite films come to life. Then you are disappointed when the show opens with an awfully corny number with dancing Transylvanians singing, “We're the Happiest Town in Town!” because the eldest of the Frankenstein’s passed. But Inspector Kemp tells them he had a grandson and they proceed with this nonsense:

[Ziggy]

I may be the village idiot, but I ask you,

What are the chances of a New York doctor ever coming to Transylvania?

[All]

None! Yeah!

(sung)

On this happy day we say amen

We have wanted this

since God knows when

[Ziggy]

No more Frankenstein

[All]

You can say that again!

[Ziggy]

No more Frankenstein

[All]

We're the Happiest Town in Town

No more Frankenstein

[Ziggy]

No more Frankenstein

[Women]

No more Frankenstein

[Ziggy and Women]

Frankenstein…Frankenstein

Frankenstein…Frankenstein

Frankenstein…Frankenstein

What? Is Ziggy even a proper name for a Transylvanian?

 Not only are these villagers overly excited – they're also brain-damaged.
 ‘We’re the happiest town in town?’ What the fuck does that mean? Was there a writers’ strike going on that I didn’t know about when the books were written for this? If Dr. Frankenstein was as crazy as they all feared, why would they just shrug off the fact that his doctor grandson who just inherited his castle might come there and stir shit up again? Stupid. I don’t even know why there was such a need for all of the villager scenes anyway. Which leads to an argument about the fact that Mel Brooks picked the wrong film to adapt, but I’ll mention that at the end.

So it can’t get any worse than that opening scene, right? HA! Transition to ‘Young’ Dr. Frankenstein’s (that’s FRONKENSTEIN) lab where he is teaching his students about the brain. And what better way to convey this musically than Roger Bart’s (The Producers- The Musical) completely neurotic and skitsofrantic Dr. Frankenstein twitching and singing about how much he loves the brain. 
 ‘Cuz I
 Love 
The 
Brain!’ (I wish Mel Brooks still had a brain!) He also doesn’t stab himself in the leg at the end of the song either…that really pissed me off!



If you know the film as well as I do, we are now approaching the entrance of Dr. Frankenstein’s fiancé Elizabeth. I was actually very optimistic regarding the casting of Megan Mullally (Grease, Will & Grace) as the character that Madeline Kahn (Blazing Saddles) made so memorable. However, you always have that one fear with Ms. Mullally that it won’t be the character of Elizabeth singing a stupid song about not touching her breasts, but Karen Walker from Will & Grace singing a stupid song about not touching her enormous cans. No matter what character Megan plays, I swear she’s always talking about her big knockers. Yeah, I get it. In fact I can see them from the mezzanine. Stop singing about them! Don’t get me wrong, she has a great voice so kudos to her for showing it off. But if she doesn’t play a psychotic drug addict with twelve kids in an oddball mountain town in a Coen Bros. film all hope is gone for this woman to get different roles. She will forever play a high-pitched rich bitch.

As Elizabeth sends off Dr. Frankenstein on boat I…. wait, a boat? Did they really just butcher the joke from the film where Dr. Frankenstein travels from New York to Transylvania by train? What is happening?!

Once in Transylvania in drags Igor- pronounced Eye-gor (Christopher Fitzgerald, Wicked). Fitzgerald was very entertaining; although had too much ‘Broadway frolic’ and jazz hands, and needed more of the saucy creep factor that Marty Feldman gave us in the film.

Now to my beloved Inga, originally portrayed by the lovely and talented Teri Garr (Tootsie). Brooks wanted a lot of ‘star power’ in this, and the only Broadway Baby even close to the likes of Patti Lupone (Evita) and Bernadette Peters (Annie Get Your Gun) these days is the cookie cutter antics of Sutton Foster (Thoroughly Modern Millie). Yes, she can sing and dance, but her accent was shit and she was not in the least bit sexy. I thought that that was one of the points to the character of Inga… not in this case. Brooks really fucked up when it came to the casting of Inga. He would have been better off rehiring Cady Huffman, the chick he cast as Ulla INGA Hansen Benson Yansen Tallen Hallen Svaden Swanson “Bloom” in The Producers. Same character. Same difference.

As I found myself dozing off and wondering what this world is coming to, Andrea Martin (My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Fiddler on the Roof) graced us with her presence as Frau Blücher (NEEEEEEEEE!!!!). Andrea Martin is Young Frankenstein’s flawless asset. Her accent was solid, she nailed the character, and her solo ‘He Vas My Boyfriend’ was exceptionally enjoyable and well choreographed.

‘Puttin on the Ritz’ was also a well-choreographed number with the monster tap dancing in his big clunky shoes. Lots of top hats, canes, and dancing “dudes” accompany him. It was cute, to say the least.

The monster, played by Shuler Hensley (Oklahoma!) is also a nice treat, but nothing spectacular. I did enjoy his enormous operatic voice at the end when he gets some of Dr. Frankenstein’s knowledge after the transferal experiment. His scene with ‘The Hermit’ was funny and the hermit’s song ‘Please Send Me Someone’ is amusing and sprinkled throughout…although, I found it to be a rip off of the Prince Herbert song “Where Are You? “ from Monty Python’s Spamalot, which was to the same affect and also found itself sprinkling it’s merry way here and there as a little surprise. In fact, lets compare verses:

The Hermit:

Someone,

Send me someone

I need someone

Who will care



 

Prince Herbert:

Where are you?

Where are you?


Where are you, my heart's desire?



Same pattern.

I’ll give the set designer and stage manager ‘props’ for their efforts (Same Producers crew). Most of the sets were appealing and detailed. There was definitely a hint of mystery and humor to them that was very pleasing to the eye. The one set that stands out in my mind is that of the horse carriage scene where Dr. Frankenstein and Inga are taken off to the castle and sing the song “Roll in the Hay.” The illusion of the horses and the carriage movement through the dark and sinister woods was spot on. I dug it.

I know I compared the musical to the film way too much while I was watching, but I truly feel that when you have a good thing, you should not tamper with it. Don’t change the story line because you want to “refresh” it, especially if you can’t even make it better and more memorable. Footloose and Monty Python’s Spamalot did an excellent job of keeping the story arcs and one liners from the original films they were based on, but were also able to goose it up and adapt it to the times without compromising the creative. And don’t even get me started on the fact that Brooks should have brought Robin Hood: Men in Tights or History of the World: Part 1 to the stage before this. Talk about a no-brainer. Not only do both films have songs in them already, but they also have an actual need for an ensemble cast throughout the entire story. I had to stop myself from shouting “SEND IN THE NUNS!” during the second act.

Young Frankenstein- The Musical is a monster, and it should go back to the grave where it was dug up from…meaning the DVD jewel case. 
When the show ended, so many people were commenting on how wonderful it was and I actually wondered if we saw the same thing. It just goes to show that Broadway is continuing to die a slow and painful death. Long gone are the days when playwrights, composers and lyricists were producing quality entertainment like the original A Chorus Line, West Side Story, Rent, Wicked…oh the list goes on, but I can’t say that a lot of the new fare out there now and soon to come out will be anything more than refurbished oldies and films that should never be adapted for the stage and/or horrible usage of music legends. It’s all fluff for the masses of Americans who can’t be bothered with intelligent stories. I’ll go insane if they do a musical based on the works of Michael Jackson. (Shit… I may be onto something here). And please shoot me if Forrest Gump ever goes into previews. (Shit… am I onto something again?)

Long review short: Take a “seda-give” if you are dragged to this.

Author: Ron Bricker

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