Also see Ann's review of Time of My Life
Created from the popular 1974 horror movie spoof film by Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder, the Young Frankenstein musical is classic Mel Brooks. Classic in the multitude of sex jokes, puns and comedic irony (book by Brooks and Thomas Meehan), and classic in the serviceable but not memorable score, a la the one Brooks wrote for The Producers. For those who are familiar with the film, some of the jokes may have been laugh out loud funny the first time, but subsequently only chuckle-inducing; others can take you by pleasant surprise, even if you already know the punchline. With Roger Bart's different take on the lead role (played in the film by Gene Wilder), it's not just a dusted off direct transfer. And, in the case of the touring production at the Benedum Center, the audience is loving it.
A twist on the classic Frankenstein story, we have the original Dr. F's grandson Frederick in 1934 Transylvania to complete the family experiment of bringing a dead man to life. Angry townspeople and a policeman, Inspector Kemp (Brad Oscar, fully equipped with mechanical arm and stiff-leg limp); a deformed sidekick, Igor (James Gray and his own sidekick, a hump); an old crone of a caretaker, Frau Blucher (Joanna Glushak, looking more like original Broadway frau Andrea Martin than the film's Cloris Leachman); and a buxom and randy blonde helpmate Inga (Anne Horack) all surround and inhabit the large, stone, classically creepy Frankenstein mansion (set by Robin Wagner). In the laboratory, adorned perfectly with twirling and flashing lights and other scientific-looking stuff of legendary 1930s horror films, Dr. and pals create his Monster (Rye Mullis), who subsequently frightens then charms all involved (especially Frederick's fiancee Elizabeth, played by Beth Curry).
The songs often add humor to the piece, but can also wear out their welcome. Even the classic Berlin song, "Puttin' on the Ritz," performed in what starts as the show's funniest scene, goes on too long. Bart is hilarious, adding his own brand of shtick and a great singing voice as well. He created the stage role in 2007, but his portrayal is still fresh. His scenes with Horack are very funny, and she shows a delightful singing voice. Oscar is unrecognizable as Inspector Kemp, but the role seems almost inconsequential; he really shines, though, as the blind Hermit who has a brief but memorable visit from Frankenstein's Monster.
All in all, it's not surprising that the musical was not a big success on Broadway. But it's a big touring musical, and it deals enough laughs and winning performance to succeed in the regions.
The New Mel Brooks Musical: Young Frankenstein continues at the Benedum Center through May 9th. For ticket and performance information, visit pgharts.org. Also visit the tour's website at www.youngfrankensteinthemusical.com.