More fun than a roll in the hay
Written by Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan
Music and lyrics by Mel Brooks
Directed & Choreographed by Susan Stroman
Musical direction by Robert Billig
Performed by Roger Bart, Shuler Hensley, Cory English, Brad Oscar, Beth Curry, Joanna Glushak, Anne Horak.
North American Tour
Princess of Wales Theatre, Toronto
March 17 to April 18, 2010
Entertain This Thought!
Review by Mary Alderson
Toronto’s Princess of Wales Theatre has been transformed into Transylvania for the next month, with the Broadway tour of Young Frankenstein rolling into town. While it hasn’t earned the same accolades as The Producers, Young Frankenstein is still classic Mel Brooks with many laughs.
Brooks had a hit back in 1968 with the movie The Producers, which he followed with two more movie hits, Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein, both in 1974. In Young Frankenstein, Brooks satirized scenes from the old black & white Frankenstein movies of the 1930s and 40s. He created parodies of several scenes familiar to fans of the old horror movies.
In 2001 he converted The Producers into a Broadway Musical and won a record-breaking 12 Tony awards. Following the success of The Producers, he wrote music for Young Frankenstein and opened it on Broadway in 2007. Even if Young Frankenstein hasn’t been as popular as The Producers, it is still one corny laugh after another and a whole lot of fun.
Fortunately, Broadway star Roger Bart has gone on this tour, because he’s what makes the show so much fun. Bart was Carmen Ghia in The Producers and won a Tony for his portrayal of Snoopy in You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown. He is recognizable from a brief role on Desperate Housewives – he was the pharmacist who killed Bree’s first husband.
Bart has excellent comedic timing and his style is reminiscent of Johnny Wayne of Wayne & Schuster fame. He looks at the audience with a silly grin and then delivers the funny line – a bad pun or corny joke. Yes, the style may be very old fashioned, but Bart makes it work today.
The year is 1934, and the people of Transylvania are celebrating the death of Victor Frankenstein. They won’t have to fear his experiments any more. Back in New York, his grandson Frederick Frankenstein is a medical school professor. He prefers that his name be pronounced Fronk-en-steen, to distance himself from his grandfather. When word of his grandfather’s death arrives, Frederick must travel to Transylvania to deal with the castle he has inherited. He says good-bye to his girlfriend, Elizabeth (Beth Curry), who won’t let him touch her as she has just had her lips, nails and hair done. She sings, “Please don’t touch me” as Frankenstein tries to give her a farewell kiss.
Igor (pronounced Eye-gor) played hilariously by Cory English, along with lab assistant Inga (Anne Horak), tries to convince Frankenstein to stay and carry on his grandfather’s work. After the hay wagon ride with Inga, where Horak yodels delightfully in her low cut peasant blouse, he agrees to stay.
The castle is maintained by the housekeeper Frau Blucher, portrayed very well by Johanna Glushak. The horses whinny in fear each time her name is spoken – apparently, Mel Brooks originally thought that Blucher was German for glue, and so the horses were afraid of being sent to a glue factory. This running gag kept the audience laughing throughout the show.
The Monster is played by Shuler Hensley, who also had the part on Broadway. He has great fun with the character, particularly in the scene where he crashes into the blind hermit’s cabin (played very well by understudy Erick R. Walck.) Hensley is uproarious when he sings and dances “Putting on the Ritz”, Monster style.
The laughs roll across the audience with one silly joke or pun after another. Some were a little bit naughty so I wouldn’t recommend the show for children under 12.
At one point, Young Dr. Frankenstein decides to have a sit-down talk with Igor, who stepped on a good brain, and then brought a different brain to put into The Monster. Igor insists it’s also a good brain; it belonged to Abby Normal. Igor goes to great dramatic lengths to take his seat. Both actors break up as Igor makes sitting down a big production – or was that acting, too? Finally, Frankenstein asks quietly, “Do you want me to validate that parking?” Maybe the line was improv, or it was acted to look like improv – either way, it was hilarious.
Using all the old jokes and puns and satirizing the horror genre, Brooks created a very funny movie in 1974. By adding songs to it and making it a big musical, he only adds to the comedy. If you’re a fan of Wayne & Schuster type humour, you’ll love this show.
Rumour has it that Mel Brooks at age 84 is writing songs for Blazing Saddles. I’m looking forward to more of Brooks’ crazy comedy on the live stage.
For tickets, call TicketKing 416-872-1212 or 1-800-461-3333 or go to www.mirvish.com
A member of the Canadian Theatre Critics Association, Mary Alderson reviews shows at area theatres and posts her reviews at www.entertainthisthought.com.