By Elizabeth Maupin
One of them carries a big, scary-looking pitchfork – and it’s that pitchfork that haunts me long after Young Frankenstein is through.
I never feared for the monster when I saw that monstrous weapon. I just feared for myself and for the other members of the audience – because I felt like, if Brooks were in the house, he’d be wielding the pitchfork in our direction and shrieking, “Laugh, damn you, laugh!”
The hunger for laughs in this tiring production is that desperate. And the occasion for laughs is that rare.
Young Frankenstein may be the funniest of Brooks’ string of movie comedies, and it certainly had the most inspired casting. But the octogenarian funnyman, apparently soaring with his success onstage with The Producers, pulled no new tricks out of his hat for Young Frankenstein. The stage show feels like a retread, with pale imitations of the movie’s actors parroting lines that were a whole lot funnier in 1974.
And director-choreographer Susan Stroman, whose work brought sparkle to such different Broadway fare as The Producers, The Music Man, Contact and Crazy for You, seems to have been off her game in Young Frankenstein, where the staging only very rarely shines.
All of that was true, also, when Young Frankenstein opened on Broadway in 2007, where it ran for a little more than a year. (Compare that to six years for The Producers.) And it’s even truer for the bland touring production, where a hard-working cast never rises above the disappointing level of their script and songs. The actors who get the best material ride with it; those who don’t, suffer.
So, while Cory English (Igor) and Joanna Glushak (Frau Blucher) can make something of their eccentric characters, some of the other actors are not so lucky. Christopher Ryan (who looks like Dickie Smothers with a coif) finds none of Gene Wilder’s looniness in Frederick Frankenstein, and Synthia Link is a humdrum Inga. Janine Divita isn’t interesting enough as the strident Elizabeth to warrant the star treatment she receives.
But Preston Truman Boyd does make a sweet-tempered monster, and David Benoit, as a jolly blind hermit, proves to have a terrific voice.
Still, most of Brooks’ songs are a snooze, or else he has taken the movie’s funniest jokes (“He vas my boyfriend”) and, by turning them into songs, has beaten them into submission.
It doesn’t help that the opening-night sound was so muddy that it was nearly impossible to understand the lyrics. And it doesn’t help that Irving Berlin’s “Puttin’ on the Ritz” is still the best thing about Young Frankenstein, even though Stroman beats that one to death too. When I leave a new musical humming the tune from a song written in 1929, I’m inclined to think something that’s anathema to me – that maybe it really is better to skip the theater, stay home and watch the old movie on TV.
What: Touring production of Mel Brooks-Thomas Meehan musical.
When: 8 p.m. Nov. 30-Dec. 3, 2 and 8 p.m. Dec. 4, 1 and 6:30 p.m. Dec. 5.
Where: Carr Performing Arts Centre, 401 W. Livingston St., Orlando.
Running time: Two hours and 35 minutes, with intermission.
Photos: Top right, Preston Truman Boyd and Christopher Ryan. Middle right: Synthia Link, Christopher Ryan and Cory English. Middle left: Cory English, Joanna Glushak, Preston Truman Boyd, Synthia Link, Christopher Ryan and the company. Lower right, Cory English. Lower left, Preston Truman Boyd and Christopher Ryan.
Copyright 2010 by Elizabeth Maupin