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The New Mel Brooks Musical "Young Frankenstein" at the Hilton Theatre

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Young Frankenstein
The New Mel Brooks Musical
Hilton Theatre

Young Frankenstein
Book by Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan
Music and Lyrics by Mel Brooks
Hilton Theatre
West 42nd Street at 7th Avenue

Starring: Roger Bart, Heather Ayers
Sutton Foster, Shuler Hensley
Andrea Martin, Fred Applegate, Christopher Fitzgerald
Kristin Marie Johnson, Jim Borstelmann, Paul Castree
Jack Doyle, Kevin Ligon, Linda Mugleston
And the Ensemble

Directed and Choreographed by Susan Stroman
Music Arrangements and Supervision by Glen Kelly
Scenic Design: Robin Wagner
Lighting Design: Peter Kaczorowski
Costume Design: William Ivey Long
Sound Design: Jonathan Deans
Special Effects: Marc Brickman
Wig & Hair Design: Paul Huntley
Make-Up Design: Angelina Avallone
Associate Director: Steven Zweigbaum
Associate Choreographer: Chris Peterson
Orchestrations: Doug Besterman
Music Direction and Vocal Arrangements: Patrick S. Brady
Music Coordinator: John Miller
Conductor: Patrick S. Brady
Technical Supervisor: Hudson Theatrical Associates
Casting: Tara Rubin Casting
Associate Producers: One Viking Productions/Carl Pasbjerb
General Management: Richard Frankel Productions/Laura Green
Press: Barlow * Hartman

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
May 28, 2008

When I finally went to see Young Frankenstein, well after its opening, I had low expectations, assuming it would be “touristy”, low level, loud, and gaudy. Mel Brooks’ The Producers was so thoroughly entertaining, that I had seen it twice, but somehow I expected his new show to pander to the masses. Yes, it pandered, but maybe I’m part of his masses now, because I found Young Frankenstein thoroughly entertaining. Yes, it was loud, but I did not miss any lines, as I have in recent rave shows, poorly designed for amplification (A Catered Affair) and November). Yes, it was touristy, but that was because it has larger than life sets and special effects, with smoke and magic (as does the Met Opera House). And, yes, it might be low level and gaudy, but once we are into the rhythm of the gags and the vaudevillian action, we relax, laugh, and wait for more. And, these days there’s so little to really laugh about, especially onstage.

Mel Brooks’ book (with Thomas Meehan), music, and lyrics, are built upon by his film, same title. Many of his collaborators are borrowed from The Producers. The effect is splendid, especially Robin Wagner’s monster-sized scenery, including a hay ride and horses, a haunted house with laboratory equipment, a cave fit for two, and a Transylvanian stage for high-kicking Ritzy monsters. Peter Kaczorowski returned for lighting design, and the blackened, spooky segments that glowed with mirth and smoke were critical to this experience. William Ivey Long and Paul Huntley were back again for costumes, hair, and wigs. Their wonderful skills shown in Shuler Hensley’s green-faced, stitched-together monster, with a copy of Frederick Frankenstein’s brain, as well as in Christopher Fitzgerald’s creepy, hilarious Igor, with his ghost-like complexion. Susan Stroman and Glen Kelly were also brought back from The Producers for choreography, music, and orchestral arrangements, and the stars and ensemble danced and sang with dynamic, delirious joy, sometimes burlesque, always bedazzled. “Deep Love”, “Puttin’ On the Ritz”, “Listen to Your Heart”, and “He Vas My Boyfriend” still visually whirl in my mind.

Roger Bart, as Frankenstein, was so magnetizing and attractive in this rollicking role, that I may see the show again, just to re-visit his performance. His “shtick” was ballroom-burlesque-noir, and sexy, too. Sutton Foster is Inga, Frankenstein’s blonde, ingénue assistant, who can yodel a man right into her cleavage. She has been favorably reviewed twice (Little Women and The Drowsy Chaperone) in this magazine, and now she exudes with extra charm and charisma. Heather Ayers filled in for Megan Mullally, as Elizabeth, Frankenstein’s fiancée, and her roll in the cave, resulting in “Deep Love” for The Monster, was one of Mel Brooks’ genius moments. Her “Please Don’t Touch Me”, adorably forcing physical distance between her and Frederick, her fiancé, sealed a bright, Broadway future, with a great voice and oh, so great persona.

Shuler Hensley, as The Monster, develops his personality, from stiff, mute corpse-come-alive to twirling, jumping Ritzy dancer, all in a couple of hours, a little bit at a time, so each new affectation or spoken word grabs our attention. Andrea Martin, as Frau Blucher, the Transylvanian housekeeper, brought the house down, every time she sang, in fact, almost every time she appeared. “He Vas My Boyfriend”, referring to the original Frankenstein, Frederick’s grandfather, was wild and impassioned, and totally over the top. Fred Applegate was Inspector Kemp and a blind Hermit. At “A Remote Cottage in the Forest”, Applegate, the Hermit, sings, “Please Send Me Someone”, and the gags gallop along. Finally, Christopher Fitzgerald, as Igor, the curled up, hooded, sickle-carrying side-kick, added huge humor to the happenings. He joined Frederick and Inga in “Roll in the Hay” with raucous results.

Patrick S. Brady conducted the orchestra, and each tune had requisite energy, contagious melody, and blended flourishes. Mel Brooks has another hit on his hands, and his own producers should be thrilled. Concept, music, and lyrics are what the doctor ordered: seamless smiles and large laughs, followed by humming days later. This is a Broadway show for the masses, and this time the masses know best. “The New Mel Brooks Musical Young Frankenstein”, as it’s billed, may not win all the awards, but it will win at the box office. And it should. Kudos to Mel Brooks.

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