Please note: This review originally appeared on PlanetEye Traveler
Mel Brooks has successfully given his movie, “Young Frankenstein,” new life as a musical, or as Dr. Frankenstein might have exclaimed, “It’s alive!”
I was not sure how well the 1974 comedy classic would translate to stage, but with Brooks at the helm (he wrote the book and the music) the story lives on, and he didn’t have to rob any graves to do so.
“The Mel Brooks Musical: Young Frankenstein” opened at the Winspear Opera House in Dallas last night to an eager crowd. Before the show started, I overheard audience members quoting dialog from the film and even humming, “Putting on the Ritz” in anticipation.
“Young Frankenstein” is the comedic tale of a promising young doctor, Frederick Frankenstein, who travels to Transylvania to settle his grandfather’s estate. The townsfolk greet Dr. Frankenstein with suspicion since the elder Frankenstein was known for his attempts to re-animate dead people – with disastrous results. Soon, however, young Frederick is consumed by the same madness as his grandfather and decides to create a monster of his own – also with disastrous (although amusing) results.
The musical version of “Young Frankenstein” is not a carbon copy of the movie. It is a blend of anticipated jokes for fans of the original film along with a bunch of new gags, all done in Mel Brooks’ characteristically ribald way so that the additions never feel like padding. The entire show, with intermission, runs 2.5 hours, and moves at a brisk clip.
Mel Brooks also composed the songs and lyrics for the musical version of “Young Frankenstein.” The result is a jaunty mix of numbers with clever lyrics, upbeat pieces which blend well with the production’s only borrowed tune, “Putting on the Ritz” by Irving Berlin.
The physical wittiness of Susan Stroman’s direction and choreography perfectly complements Brooks’ lighthearted tunes and double-entendre laden lyrics. Stroman knows when to be silly and when a touch of elegance will heighten the absurd. I especially enjoyed the friskiness of the choreography for “Roll in the Hay,” and “He Vas My Boyfriend.”
Frau Blucher (who still has that bizarre effect upon horses) is a stand-out as played by Joanna Glushak. Her solo, “He Vas My Boyfriend,” is a crack-up, and offers details into her relationship with Victor Frankenstein that are, as Igor’s character points out, a little on the, “too much information” side.
Peter English, as Igor, has the best lines of the night and milks them for all they are worth. English brings the perfect blend of the impish and clever to his role, a role he played on Broadway prior to this traveling production.
Christopher Ryan, who portrays Frederick Frankenstein, sometimes rushes to his punch lines, but sings and dances well, and gives the audience plenty of laughs.
Preston Truman Boyd is monstrously funny as The Monster, while both of Dr. Frankenstein’s love interests, the high maintenance tease, Elizabeth (Janine Divita), and his flirty lab assistant, Inga (Synthia Link) live up to their predecessors from the film, which is no easy task.
The only thing missing from this production is the brilliance of Gene Wilder, who not only starred in the original film, but co-wrote it with Mel Brooks. Even so, the material is indelibly stamped with Wilder’s genius. The unforgettable, “Putting on the Ritz” segment, for example, comes straight from Wilder, even though it was very nearly left out of the movie.
It’s hard to imagine any version of “Young Frankenstein” without that song. In fact, Mel Brooks and Susan Stroman have turned the song and dance for “Putting on the Ritz” into the pinnacle of the second act, and it is exactly what you find yourself happily humming as you walk out the door.
“The Mel Brooks Musical: Young Frankenstein” runs nightly through January 23, 2011 at the AT&T Performing Arts Center in Dallas.
What: The Mel Brooks Musical: Young Frankenstein
When: Through January 23, 2011
Where: Winspear Opera House, 2401 Flora Street, Dallas, TX
Price: $30 to $150
More information: Visit the AT&T Performing Arts Center official website.
Photo credit: Photos by Paul Kolnik, courtesy of AT&T Performing Arts Center
Note: Although tickets were provided for review purposes, the opinions expressed in this article are wholly my own.