Brooks’ music embodies the spirit of the movie so marvelously that in many ways the musical ends up being the funnier of the two.
I broke my own rule before heading to The Muny for an evening of musical magic—I watched the film version of Young Frankenstein first. I had seen it awhile back, and don’t get be wrong, my movie night with friends was great and all, but it caused me to enter into the live show wanting just that: the movie, actors and all. (This is why I intentionally avoid such pre-show screenings!)
However, it seems fair to suspect that I’m not the only audience member who spent much of the show drawing similarities and differences between the two. The inclination to do so is completely natural, BUT you’ll enjoy the show significantly more if you can silence your internal comparison commentary. Trust me. I wish I had made more of an effort to silence mine sooner into the show.
A parody of the film adaptations of Mary Shelley’s classic novel Frankenstein—and the horror genre in general—the movie and subsequent musical Young Frankenstein introduces the audience to the grandson of the infamous Dr. Victor Frankenstein, physician and professor Dr. Frederick Frankenstein (Robert Petkoff). Frederick has gone as far as changing the pronunciation of his last name to disassociate himself from his monster obsessed family members. He shows no interest in his grandfather’s work…that is until Victor passes away. Frederick bids his fiancé, Elizabeth (Jennifer Cody), a temporary farewell to travel to Transylvania to settle Victor’s estate. There he meets his hunch-backed servant, Igor (Steve Rosen); a blonde beauty named Inga (Stephanie Gibson) who Igor has found to serve as Frederick’s assistant; and housekeeper (or shall we say castle keeper) Frau Blücher (Vicki Lewis). Frederick tries to convince this motley crew that he has no interest in picking up where his grandfather left off, but you know what they say, “when in Rome, do as the Romans do.” Once he stumbles upon Victor’s private library, he too becomes hooked on the notion of resurrecting the dead. And from there chaos ensues.
When the film’s director, Mel Brooks, teamed up with Thomas Meehan to write the book for this musical, the plot and characters were left relatively unchanged. Instead, Brooks strategically sprinkled in more than a dozen songs to complement the preexisting storyline in the wackiest way possible. The result: Laughter, laughter, and more laughter. His music embodies the spirit of the movie so marvelously that in many ways the musical ends up being the funnier of the two. It’s even more over-the-top than the original!
Does Petkoff play the part like Gene Wilder, who originated the role of Frederick in the movie? Not exactly. There’s only one Wilder. But this isn’t a bad thing. While Wilder’s eccentric, wild-eyed take on this role made it memorable, Petkoff’s own portrayal of peculiarity combined with his vocals is what will make you want to buy another ticket on the way out.
I can’t give Petkoff all of the credit for wowing the crowd; it was a group effort! There wasn’t a single weak link in this cast. Cody was exceptional as Elizabeth—a character we get to know MUCH better in the musical. Timothy Hughes played the perfect mumbling Monster. Gibson was a gem and, as we learn in “Roll in The Hay,” a great yodeler. And Rosen ensured Igor hobbled his way into the hearts of the audience members with his comedic timing and charm. (Fun fact: Cody and Rosen both starred in The Muny’s recent production of “The Addams Family,” as Grandma and Uncle Fester respectively).
Last but not least, I have to shine a spotlight on a couple of immensely talented people who poured their time and talents into the show behind-the-scenes. Paul Tate dePoo III’s scenic design exceeds all expectations. It single-handedly transports the crowd to Transylvania. Secondly, I must applaud Josh Rhodes choreography. It’s creative on both a small and large scale, and his expansion of the “Puttin’ on the Ritz” dance number (the only musical number in the movie, music and lyrics by Irving Berlin) is the absolute number one reason I recommend seeing this show. It was superb!
In the playbill for this show, Dennis Brown provides a bit of background on the moment when Mel Brooks fell madly in love with theatre. After seeing his first Broadway show, “Anything Goes,” Brooks’ gushed, “I had goose bumps. I almost fainted. I figured that a Broadway musical was as close to heaven as I’d ever get… This is the world I want to live in.” I loved reading this because I know countless theatre patrons who will agree with me when I say that the mere opportunity to see this show live on stage gives the story a special dose of magic that not even a 3D movie will ever be able to replicate. | Megan Washausen
Young Frankenstein runs at The Muny through July 19. For ticket information, visit www.muny.org, and check out tickets for the next show, Mama Mia!, while you’re there!