This 'Frankenstein' is more like a sed-a-give

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We all have our good days and our bad ones. For Mel Brooks, "Blazing Saddles" and both the movie and stage versions of "The Producers" constituted very good days. "Love Stinks" and "Dracula: Dead and Loving It" equaled bad days. One might say that Brooks' 1974 movie "Young Frankenstein" was his masterpiece, except that unlike most of the work in his portfolio, that movie was far from his alone. Gene Wilder actually wrote the screenplay before Brooks was ever involved; Mel did add enough Brooksian gags to qualify sharing the screen credit, but that creation can't be considered a Brooks film as much as a Wilder-Brooks collaboration. However, the new musicalized legit version of "Young Frankenstein" that opened Thursday at the Hilton is pretty much all Brooks. And another one of those bad days. There are many reasons: Brooks, a man who has certainly proved himself to be clever, colorful, a funny fellow and wise in the ways of show business, has made a serious error in judgment in attempting to turn what was a sly and witty homage-spoof of a black-and-white 1931 horror film into a razzle-dazzle Broadway musical with low-burlesque overtones. It's a bracingly uncomfortable fit. Further, the funniest moments in his new show are those lifted straight from the movie version, which are then unfortunately diluted through pedestrian staging and choreography. No one is better at writing gags than Brooks, but here they all seem overly hammered, something that worked beautifully for the milieu of "Producers" but this time is more jarring than jolly. Of the songs, which include 17 new ones written by Brooks, only one in the entire show is hummable, and that's "Puttin' on the Ritz," which was written almost eight decades ago by Irving Berlin. In the film version of "Young Frankenstein," the staging of that "Ritz" number bordered on genius; typical of everything in this Broadway translation, it's woefully overproduced and ends up being not so funny. There are several good things about the show, including Robin Wagner's sets and a clever depiction of a haywagon driving through the Transylvanian countryside. Four in the cast also are first-rate: Christopher Fitzgerald as the hunchbacked Igor, Andrea Martin as Frau Blucher, Shuler Hensley as the monster and the leggy Sutton Foster as the frisky lab assistant, though Foster's supreme dancing talents are woefully unused by the show's director-choreographer, Susan Stroman. On the other side of the ledger, Roger Bart makes virtually no impression in the role Wilder played so hilariously on film, and Megan Mullally should fire her agent. The most telling thing about the show is the fact that the most enthusiastic applause always seems to comes before, not after, an entrance, a line about to be spoken or a sequence about to occur, as the fans of the movie anticipate being transported back to the world of that 1974 film. They won't find it at the Hilton. Better to get out the DVD again and look at the original, which also will save considerable shekels, considering that the premium orchestra seats on weekends for this show cost $450. But even at its regular $120 orchestra seat price, this "Frankenstein" seems monstrously overpriced.
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