Robert Tanitch reviews Young Frankenstein at Garrick Theatre, London WC2
Mel Brooks, author, writer, director and producer, 91 and still going strong, is synonymous with broad comedy.
His fame rests on three films, spoofs of three poplar cinema genres: Blazing Saddles (1974, westerns), The Producers (1968 show biz) and Young Frankenstein (1974, horror movie).
The Young Frankenstein film is a direct spoof of the 1931 James Whale/Boris Karloff classic and used the same castle and the same laboratory.
The Producers (financing a musical called Springtime with Hitler) was always a natural for a Broadway musical and from 2001 it ran for six years, a huge success in New York and London
A musical version of Young Frankenstein sounds like it might be an equally good idea; but the Broadway production in 2007 wasn’t critically as well received and it has taken ten years for it to get to London.
What we are seeing now, under the active supervision of Mel Brooks, is a slimmed-down version, directed by Susan Stroman, and everybody, including Brooks, thinks the show is much better.
The musical embraces slapstick comedy, pantomime sketches, vaudeville and music hall routines revue and cabaret acts, plenty of gags and, of course, the horror movie.
There is a good cast. Hadley Fraser is a charmer as Frankenstein’s grandson, a neurosurgeon. He can sing and act. His comedy timing and rapport with the audience is perfect.
One of the high spots is the very funny and very sexy Roll in the Hay number with Frankenstein and a Transylvanian nubile having a bumpy, innuendo-ride in a hay-cart. The beautiful leggy Summer Strallen flirts and yodels and does the splits whilst she flirts and yodels.
Lesley Joseph as Frau Blucher (the very name frightens the horses) has a song, He Vas My Boyfriend, which she sings as if she were in some decadent German cabaret choreographed by Bob Fosse.
Ross Noble is the leering hunchback Igor; and in his black hood and cloak and with his bulging eyes, he looks like Marty Feldman. Bent-double yet agile and funny, he is very funny physically.
The Monster and Frankenstein get into white tie and tails to lead the whole company in Irving Berlin’s classic tap-routine, Puttin’ on the Ritz.