My dad happens to have a list of things that should not be made into musicals. After seeing the national tour of Young Frankenstein at the Cadillac Palace Theatre last night, I can now agree with him on the Mel Brooks film Young Frankenstein being one of those things that should not be made into a musical.
At least, it shouldn’t be done in the manner that Brooks, along with his collaborator on the book, Thomas Meehan, and director Susan Stroman went about adapting it. One of the beautiful things about the movie is the fact that the gags quickly come and go. Some might be running gags, like the horses neighing at the mention of Frau Blucher’s name or Igor’s changing hump, but the gags aren’t dwelled upon and milked to death. The last two things I mentioned in that previous sentence is why Young Frankenstein is not a good musical. The jokes and gags are played out into lengthy numbers and stretched out. The audience can only be thankful that there is not a musical number about the horses neighing at the mention of Frau Blucher’s name.
And the over playing of elements is what kills this show. The two best parts of Young Frankenstein are Roger Bart’s performances as Fredrick Frankenstein and “Puttin’ On the Ritz,” which is also the only memorable number from the show. And even with “Puttin’ On the Ritz,” it is stretched out for what seems to be several minutes as it goes from Bart and the Schuler Hensley as the monster to Hensley and a shadow creature, to the ensemble in elevator shoes to the ensemble and Hensley dancing with strobe lights. And poor Bart, who seems to give the role his all and has some very well done solo numbers, is literally lost in the scenery.
The show is primarily dominated by Robin Wagner’s massive sets and Peter Kaczorowski’s headache-inducing lighting. The set pulls out all of the stops, so we have a rather cartoonish replica of the laboratory, we have the exterior of a ship, that is used in only one scene. And the lighting? There are so many blinding lighting effects used onstage that my eyes hurt at intermission. And I was sitting in the second to the last row of balcony of the Cadillac Palace Theatre.
As for the performances of the other actors, I’m not really sure what to say because I think that maybe their performances would’ve made more of an impression if they had been given better material to work with. But Frau Blucher’s violin is quite impressive since whenever she moves her bow across the strings, we hear horns playing a chord. I’ve never seen a violin that sounded like horns.
Who knows if this will be Mel Brooks’ last musical venture? I love The Producers, which has the benefit of not following the film as closely as this does. If Brooks’ decides to do another musical based off of his films, like Blazing Saddles, I only hope that “16 schnitzengruben is my limit” does not become it’s own number.