Theater review: ‘Young Frankenstein’ at the Pantages
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In 2007, New York grabbed torches and pitchforks and went after a monster.
The object of this pursuit, ‘Young Frankenstein,’ was indeed frightful in some respects, but it didn’t deserve quite such bitter griping.
True, moviemaker turned theater adventurist Mel Brooks and his cohort, director-choreographer Susan Stroman, were blithely repeating the formula that had proved so popular with their stage musical version of ‘The Producers,’ without bringing anything new to the mix. And, yes, despite some flashes of lightning, the show never came as vividly alive as one might have wished, especially considering what it, inevitably, would be compared against: the 1974 movie, with its priceless comic performances by Gene Wilder, Marty Feldman, Cloris Leachman, et al.
But ‘Young Frankenstein,’ now on tour and playing at the Pantages in Hollywood for two weeks, is not a bad show. Or, to be precise: It’s no more mediocre than ‘The Producers,’ so wildly overpraised that it ended up winning 12 Tony Awards, more than any other show in history -- a distinction that it most certainly does not deserve.
New York, you vented at the wrong monster.
Although downscaled a bit since Broadway, the touring presentation is lavish, and Los Angeles is getting a look at two of the New York leads: Roger Bart as Frederick Frankenstein (oops, pardon, herr doktor; Frahnken-STEEN) and Shuler Hensley, in green, as the monster.
Giddiness builds each time the audience senses the approach of one of the movie’s famous, double-entendre-laden comic bits. (Just the appearance of the Frankenstein mansion’s front doors, with a pair of enormous, voluptuously round metal knockers, is enough to set the audience giggling.) Alas, the anticipation is better savored than the actual delivery, which time and again comes across as pale imitation.
The story’s setting in 1934 -- in a Transylvania locale stolen from Dracula and fused, humorously, with the Swiss Alps -- lends itself to a bit of operetta and vaudeville, a lot of old Broadway and old Hollywood, plus a mishmash of Mitteleuropean folk stylings. The new music is by Brooks, who’s no Irving Berlin or Cole Porter. But his doctorate in funny bones comes in handy, especially as applied to the S&M confessional that Frau Blücher (Joanna Glushak) delivers, in mock-Kurt Weill mode, about Frederick’s grandfather in ‘He Vas My Boyfriend.’ Too bad the sound at the Pantages is so muffled and hollow; words get lost throughout the show.
Stroman’s big dance numbers most strikingly distinguish the musical from the movie, and one wishes there were more of them. She comes up with a ballroom piece in which partners don’t touch -- and the women, when dipped, consequently collapse to the floor -- to accompany ‘Please Don’t Touch Me,’ inspired by Frederick’s no-muss girlfriend (Beth Curry), and, for the Transylvania villagers, momentarily diverted from their pursuit, she devises a monster mash that conflates stiff-limbed Frankenstein’s creature moves with a bit of Charleston and even the hora.
Of the principal yuk-sters, Cory English most consistently delivers as Igor, whose attempts to seem scary only thinly disguise his puppyish desire to please. As the blind hermit who tries to befriend the monster, Brad Oscar ignites the best re-created scene, in which the old man ladles steaming soup into the lap of Hensley’s hapless creature, poignantly craving connection yet rightly fearful of his host. Bart, a bit starchy, a bit prissy as Frederick, works awfully hard for his laughs.
But he gets them. And laughs are what this material -- with its delirious mishmash of movie tropes filtered through Jewish angst/humor/wish fulfillment -- is all about.
-- Daryl H. Miller
‘Young Frankenstein,’ Pantages Theatre, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. 8 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sundays. Ends Aug. 8. $25 to $85. (800) 982-2787. www.BroadwayLA.org. Running time: 2 hours, 35 minutes.