EmptyHilton Theatre, New York
There's a lot of baggage attending the production of "Young Frankenstein" -- excuse us, the official title is "The New Mel Brooks Musical Young Frankenstein" -- which opened Thursday night on Broadway. First, of course, are the impossibly high expectations necessarily generated by the smash success of its creators' previous Broadway outing, "The Producers." Then there is the tension surrounding such aspects of the production as the absurdly high ticket prices -- $450 for "premium seats" -- and the bucking of the venerable tradition of reporting the weekly grosses.
Those aspects aside, "Young Frankenstein" is a highly entertaining musical-comedy spectacular featuring endless doses of Brooks' classic vaudeville-style humor, terrific performances from an ensemble who have more than a little to live up to and typically expert staging by Susan Stroman. If the show doesn't live up to the level of its predecessor -- nor, for that matter, to the comedic brilliance of its film inspiration -- it still registers as a hilarious crowd-pleaser.
The lavishly staged production hews closely to the film version, minus, sadly, its wonderful black-and-white visuals. The book, by Brooks and Thomas Meehan, faithfully re-creates all of the classic scenes, though their familiarity inevitably creates an occasional air of staleness. The comic proceedings have necessarily but not always advantageously been ramped up for the expanses of the Hilton Theatre, one of the largest on Broadway.
While Brooks obviously considers himself quite the tunesmith, the truth is that his score here, as with "Producers," is little more than serviceable. But it's reasonably bouncy and tuneful, and the music is carried along by the hilarious lyrics and Stroman's exuberant staging.
The director-choreographer's formidable skills are best illustrated in such numbers as "Roll in the Hay," in which she uses the long limbs of Sutton Foster (as the comely assistant, Inga) to riotously lascivious effect, and the show's centerpiece, Irving Berlin's "Puttin' on the Ritz." The latter number, here the showstopping equivalent to "Springtime for Hitler" from "Producers," has been greatly expanded from the film version, with the elaborately comedic choreography owing debts to such figures as the Marx Brothers and David Parsons.
As the titular character, Roger Bart generally is very amusing, though his performance is a little too screechy and manic at times, especially compared to Gene Wilder's brilliantly controlled underplaying in the film. Foster combines sexiness with comic panache to great effect as Inga, while Andrea Martin brilliantly camps it up as the forbidding, heavily accented Frau Blucher. The crowd-pleasing Megan Mullally's enjoyment of her role as icy fiancee Elizabeth is well transmitted, and the wonderful Christopher Fitzgerald nearly manages the impossible task of erasing memories of Marty Feldman as the humpbacked Igor.
Shuler Hensley, playing a comedic version of the monster that he played to serious effect in the would-be franchise film "Van Helsing," gets the job done, and Fred Applegate scores big laughs with his dual roles as the blind hermit and the limb-deprived police inspector.
As might be expected of a production that clearly had an unlimited budget, the show's technical elements are top of the line, especially Robin Wagner's set design with its marvelously elaborate, old-fashioned laboratory.
Presented by Robert F.X. Sillerman and Mel Brooks in association with the R/F/B/V Group
Book: Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan
Music-lyrics: Mel Brooks
Director-choreographer: Susan Stroman
Set designer: Robin Wagner
Costume designer: William Ivey Long
Lighting designer: Peter Kaczorowski
Sound designer: Jonathan Deans
Frederick Frankenstein: Roger Bart
Elizabeth: Megan Mullally
Inga: Sutton Foster
The Monster: Shuler Hensley
Frau Blucher: Andrea Martin
Inspector Kemp/Hermit: Fred Applegate
Igor: Christopher Fitzgerald