If you approach The New Mel Brooks Musical Young Frankenstein–currently playing TPAC’s Jackson Hall–as a fan of the now-classic high-camp 1974 movie, directed and co-written by Brooks, along with star Gene Wilder, you’ll likely come away with a feeling of nostalgia for the original, rather than an urge to go out and buy the soundtrack for the musical, which debuted on Broadway in 2007.
Now I’m not saying they’ve created a monster, but it’s not exactly a monster musical either. After all, as he had done for the film, Brooks also co-wrote the book of the musical, along with Thomas Meehan, his partner on The Producers, whose credits include Annie, and Hairspray. That said, because it does come from the undeniably twistedly funny mind of Mel Brooks, Young Frankenstein, in any incarnation, is hilarious.
Thankfully, Brooks kept much of the original dialogue from the film, including classic bits first spoken by Dr. Frederick Frankenstein and company as portrayed by Wilder, Marty Feldman, Cloris Leachman, Madeline Kahn, Teri Garr, Kenneth Mars and Peter Boyle. Also, Brooks and Susan Stroman, the musical’s director and choreographer, chose not to completely rebuild the characters, but simply improved on their origins by making them broader and even more exaggerated than the film, if that’s possible.
For the current Broadway touring company, Dr. Frankenstein is played by Christopher Ryan. At first, Ryan, who reminds me of Glee‘s Matthew Morrison, minus the butt-chin, seems too good looking to be playing the part originated on the big screen by googley-eyed, wirey-haired Wilder, but after a few minutes on stage, coupled with his pitch-perfect vocals and impressive dance moves and he’s well-suited as this generation’s Dr. Frankenstein.
Befitting a musical based on a Mel Brooks parody of classic horror-films, the stand-out roles don’t belong to Janine Divita or Synthia Link, who play Dr. Frankenstein‘s equally beautiful love interest Elizabeth and buxom assistant, Inga, respectively. Instead, it’s Joanna Glushak, Cory English and Preston Truman Boyd in the roles of Frau Blucher (whinny), Igor and The Monster who rightly get the most laughs and perfectly channel Leachman, Feldman and Boyle who created the roles. An interesting bit of Young Frankenstein trivia: English join the tour after having replaced Sutton Foster as Igor on Broadway beginning in November of 2008, while both Glushak and English were members of the original 2009-2010 National Tour.
I may be giving away a bit of fun seen during the curtain call, but also of note is David Benoit in the dual roles of Inspector Kemp and The Hermit. I first saw David onstage a couple of seasons back when he toured with Avenue Q. For Frankenstein, both the roles of Inspector Kemp and The Blind Hermit have been expanded and David proves his diversity as an actor and singer by easily switching from one to the other throughout the show.
As for the musical numbers themselves. Divita as Elizabeth shines in the role created by Madeline Kahn in the film. She’s sexy and playful in both Please Don’t Touch Me, one of the bawdiest Broadway numbers since Chorus Line‘s Tits and Ass, and her act two double-entendre Deep Love.
Another bit of double-etendre musical fun comes early in the show when Inga and Dr. Frankenstein head toward the castle with Igor at the reigns of a horse-drawn wagon. Synthia Link is the quintessential blonde bombshell with just enough innocence to not come across as a total tramp as Inga invites Dr. Frankenstein for a Roll In The Hay.
Joanna Glushak‘s Frau Blucher (whinny) is Brooks‘ humor at its best during He Vas My Boyfriend. Sorry, but there’s nothing funnier than an ugly old crone writhing around seductively as she reminisces about a long-forgotten, possibly-unrequited love.
Brooks is no dummy, or in this case, no regenerated monster without brains. To that end, the undisputed musical high point comes midway through the second act when Dr. Frankenstein and company present their newly created monster to the world with his public debut at a theatre in Transylvania. That’s right, The Monster dons a top hat and tails and joins the rest of the cast for a tap-heavy version of the Cole Porter classic, Puttin’ On The Ritz. If this number doesn’t get your funny bone tinglin’ and your toes tappin’, I suggest you schedule an appointment to get your neck-bolts tightened.
The New Mel Brooks Musical Young Frankenstein continues it’s Broadway Tour stop at TPAC’s Jackson Hall with performances nightly now through Sunday, May 15 and matinees Saturday and Sunday, May 14 & 15. To purchase tickets, or for more information, CLICK HERE.
While Young Frankenstein signals the end of the HCA/TriStar Broadway Subscriber Series for the 2010-2011 Season, they’ve added three shows to bridge the gap until next season. Up next, with shows running May 17-22 is Les Miserables. Next, Stomp returns to TPAC for a limited five-show run from June 17-19. Then, The Color Purple makes TPAC history as the first show to play Nashville’s premiere live theatre venue two seasons in a row when it returns June 21-26. For tickets or more information on these and any upcoming TPAC events, CLICK HERE.
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