Thursday, July 1, 2010

"Young Frankenstein": ☼ ☼ ☼ BANG

The jokes keep right on coming. "Young Frankenstein" is Mel Brooks's newest venture into the movie-becomes-musical genre, and Brooks hasn't changed his humor since he wrote for Sid Caesar in the 1950s. (Those old enough to remember can't help but see Caesar's famous Count Dracula when Drac makes his appearance at the end of Act Two, negotiating to buy the castle from Dr. Frankenstein.) This is old-time Broadway at its spoofable best - the characters take a few steps then launch into another song or dance. And Brooks never seems to run out of long schlong gags. Remember, Luke: Use your Schwartz!

Funny, but it don't look Newish. It's certainly not The Producers, which had an innovative story at its core -- write the world's worst musical and you'll get rich. Young Frankenstein was a spoof as a film and it is really tough to spoof a spoof. If anyone can pull this off it's Mel Brooks.

What fab-u-lous performances! Roger Bart as Frederick Frahnk-n-STEEN might not be Gene Wilder but no one is. Bart is funny as hell and he can sing and dance too. Brad Oscar is a showstopper as the blind hermit and peg-legged inspector. (Interesting note: in the film these two roles were played by two characters who weren't exactly chopped monster: Gene Hackman as the hermit and Kenneth Mars [the crazy Nazi in 'The Producers'] as the inspector.)

Joanna Glushak's Frau Blucher is the best of the best and she sings the show's most unforgettable song: "He Vas My Boyfriend." But we can't forget Beth Curry's "Please Don't Touch Me," Bart and Anne Horak's "Roll in the Hay" and all the villagers crooning and tapping out "Transylvania Mania."

Did we mention Shuler Hensley's fabulous monster-turned-song-and-dance-man?

Jokes. Dancing. Singing. Loveable characters. What is not to like, you self-loathing theater critic, you?

Maybe it's my rheumatism. Lots of time has passed. With all its enthusiasm, "Young Frankenstein" feels dated. Brooks's music is supposed to feel old fashioned, but it drags. Every song sounds the same, harmonically. The lyrics are very funny, but you can't catch them, especially at the start.

The show does not lack for trying its hardest. The actors are all top drawer. If there is a flaw, perhaps it is in the frenetic pacing. Brooks not only wrote the whole shmear but directs too. Next time maybe he can also build the theater.

The show already played 14 months on Broadway so it's not gonna change. It is a lot of fun and if you love Mel Brooks you'll find a lot to smile about.


The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "Young Frankenstein" three stars with a BANGLE of PRAISE. What a production! Lights (Peter Kaczorowski), sets (Robin Wagner), costumes (William Ivey Long) and orchestra under Robert Billig are absolute first class.

A special BANGLE OF PRAISE goes out to all the actors who realize they have to fill enormous shoes -- especially Roger Bart with Gene Wilder hanging over his every look of big-eyed disgruntlement. It is a testament that Bart, Glushak, Curry and company make us forget all those earlier ghouls we came to know and love.

"Young Frankenstein"
Golden Gate Theater
1 Taylor Street, San Francisco
Through July 25

1 comment:

jj-aka-pp said...

Shuler Hensley! The monster on Broadway as well! And 'Judd' in the acclaimed National Theatre production of "Oklahoma!" (AND from Atlanta [well Marietta]. There is now a Regional H.S. musical award show here named the "Shuler Hensley Awards".

Just your daily dose of Musical theatre trivia!