Thursday, November 08, 2007

Did Critics Think Young Frankenstein Was Putzin' On The Shtick?

Did Critics Think Young Frankenstein Was Putzin' On The Shtick?

So much for being anything coming close to resembling a monster hit. Instead, critics smelled blood.

Earlier this evening, Mel Brooks' much anticipated Young Frankenstein opened to what can only be described as largely disappointing initial reviews. Every single one invariably compared this effort with the ecstatically-acclaimed The Producers, which took home 12 Tony Awards in 2001. The critics largely thought the songs to be unmemorable with Roger Bart and Megan Mullally taking their share of the hits, while Andrea Martin, Christopher Fitzgerald, Sutton Foster and Shuler Hensley earning what outright praise could be offered.

Proffering that Young Frankenstein is "not exactly the requisite delirium the best musical comedy can provide," the review by Michael Kuchwara of the Associated Press is a mixed bag: "The musical's intentions aren't as clear since song and dance get in the way of the parody, diluting the spoofing....Frustratingly, Bart never gets to burst out with a show stopper of his own. Martin, though, provides some sassy, salacious humor, hilariously channeling the sexual repression of the housekeeper Frau Blucher....Young Frankenstein should do wonders for the career of Christopher Fitzgerald, an athletic scamp of a guy who portrays Frankenstein's devoted, demented sidekick, Igor. Verbally and physically, the man can command the stage."

Saying that the show is funny "sometimes," Newsday's Linda Winer is also mixed tending toward negative: "The expert actors are never less than enjoyable as characters created, unforgettably, by the now-iconic movie cast. And Andrea Martin's Frau Blucher and Shuler Hensley's Monster are demonically adorable....But the sweat of competence drives too much of the vintage Brooks humor this time, and the staging by ace director-choreographer Susan Stroman seems more formula than invention."

Claiming that "lightning hasn't struck twice," when making his inevitable comparison with The Producers, David Rooney of Variety still ends up offering a middling to positive critique: "[A]show that could have been a blast ends up being just good enough....But it's a far more mechanical creation, with little of the heart or liberating belly laughs of its predecessor....Standouts are the indispensable Andrea Martin as sinister haushag Frau Blucher and Christopher Fitzgerald as hunchback Igor. Fitzgerald does the impossible by claiming a role forged by Marty Feldman as his own inexhaustibly vaudevillian comic creation."

Complaining that it left him "with a monster-size headache," The New York Times' Ben Brantley only laughed three times: "[M]oney can’t buy you flair. It can’t even buy you laughs....And if the headline stars, Mr. Bart (in the title role) and Megan Mullally (as his Park Avenue fiancée), don’t feel naturally wedded to their roles, the production does offer confirmation of the distinctive, very different talents of Sutton Foster, Shuler Hensley and Andrea Martin. The show takes many of the elements that made The Producers such a delight and then saps them of their joy by overselling them."

Accusing Brooks & Co. of having " just made Young Frankenstein its victim," USA Today's Robert Bianco offers two-and-a-half stars: "What worked on film works, for the most part, on stage. It's when the show gets inventive, expansive and, well, musical that it gets into trouble....too many songs are dull, too many seem randomly inserted, and almost all either send the story wandering off in pointless new directions or extend old bits that were funnier shorter. The songwriting skill Brooks showed in The Producers is absent here....Struggling to hold his own against the more colorful secondary characters, Bart sends his voice screeching up to a register that, when overamplified, threatens to scratch glass. Luckily, Foster, Fitzgerald and Martin compensate -- with Martin's hilariously varied response to those whinnying horses almost worth the price of admission on its own. Hensley makes 'Puttin' on the Ritz' the show-stopper it should be."

UPDATED (November 9, 2007 - 9:37 am EST)
"Although Young Frankenstein isn't the joyous celebration one hoped for," for Joe Dziemianowicz of New York's Daily News, he still musters a marginally positive review: "Make no mistake: The show is big and entertaining. But it never matches the delirious thrills of The Producers, whose creative team regrouped to make this monster musical based on Brooks' 1974 horror-film spoof....Many of Brooks' songs disappoint, though. They lack the snap and wit he's shown before and do nothing to move the story along....Roger Bart heads the terrific cast as the mad doctor, Frederick Frankenstein. He sings and dances with enormous ease and charisma and acts with the right neurotic edge. Christopher Fitzgerald makes a fitting and very funny Igor, his humpbacked helper."

Lamenting that "it is not the The Producers," New York Post's Clive Barnes still offers a solid three-star review: "Despite music that's more ho-hum than hummable, Brooks's lyrics are bright and witty. Better yet, the book -- maintaining virtually all of those iconic quotable quotes -- does a great job, with the assistance of co-writer Thomas Meehan, in transferring the original script to the stage. An even greater job is done by Stroman whose staging, choreography and supervising of special effects manage to suggest the Broadway musical at its dizziest, glitziest and funniest. In her entire career, Stroman has done nothing better - she even outproduces her work on The Producers."

However, blasting this as a "shrill, misbegotten, deeply cynical enterprise," Eric Grode of The New York Sun submits perhaps the deepest pan: "[W]ith the exception of about a dozen jokes (nearly all of which were pulled verbatim from the film) and an Act II showstopper, the final product has a shockingly lackadaisical, dashed-off quality that no amount of whiz-bang stagecraft can conceal....Sadly, however, the shrewd casting does not extend to its Doctor Frankenstein. Roger Bart (the lisping Carmen Ghia from The Producers) has been square-pegged into the straight-man role, one for which he is particularly ill suited. Rather than attempting to rein in the surrounding madcaps until the effort occasionally reduces him to hysterics, which would have recalled Gene Wilder in the film, Mr. Bart performs nearly every scene in an exasperated shriek that brings to mind an unmodulated Nathan Lane."

So there you have it, no rapturous (and mostly mixed at best) reviews and every single one makes comparisons with Brooks' greatest hit The Producers. Will this matter when Brooks & Co. supposedly have over $30 million in advance ticket sales? Probably not, but it sure could bring down the top ticket pricing in a hurry....yet Mel Brooks may still be laughing all the way to the bank.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

Click here for tickets.
Related Stories:
It's Alive! Young Frankenstein Opens On Broadway (November 8, 2007)
Bart's Back: Bad Omen? (October 24, 2007)
The Broadway Theatres Not Impacted By Labor Dispute (October 17, 2007)
Shubert Alley Schadenfreude, Or Mel's Funk (October 11, 2007)
Once Again, I Have To Ask.... (September 20, 2007)
Young Frankenstein's Gross Out Factor (September 7, 2007)
Seattle Times: Young Frankenstein's Shtick Gets Old (August 24, 2007)
Riedel's Deep Abby Normal?(August 17, 2007)
Young Frankenstein (The SOB Preview) (August 13, 2007)
Will These Eyes Meet? Hoping For Better Than 75% (August 10, 2007)
Is Mel Worth It? (August 4, 2007)
Thanks, Mel! (July 6, 2007)
What Motivates You To See A Broadway Show? (July 5, 2007)
That's Franken$$$$$TEIN! (June 29, 2007)
Cloris To Mel: Put Up Your Dukes! (June 13, 2007)
Pirate Queen Set To Abdicate Hilton Throne (June 6, 2007)
Billion Dollar Broadway Baby? Almost. (May 30, 2007)
Mel Brooks: "It Looks Like The Hilton Theatre" (May 25, 2007)
End Of Plank For Pirate Queen? (May 18, 2007)
It's Official: Mullally Cast In Young Frankenstein (March 9, 2007)
The Hits From Coast To Coast (March 8, 2007)
Whither Goeth Chenoweth? (February 27, 2007)
Producers Out, Young Frankenstein In (February 22, 2007)
That's FrankenSTEEN: Just In Time For Halloween (January 24, 2007)
M-G-M: Movies-Going-Musical (January 3, 2007)
Young Frankenstein Workshop To Feature Monster Casting (October 11, 2006)

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At 09 November, 2007, Blogger Esther said...

Ben Brantley makes a really interesting observation that I hadn't thought about. He uses "The 39 Steps" as an example of how to take a dark, vintage black and white movie and turn it into a piece of theater. Having seen "The 39 Steps" in Boston a couple months ago, in its pre-Broadway tryout, I can definitely see his point. "The 39 Steps" uses a lot of broad, physical comedy and manages to maintain the atmosphere of the original in a way that "Young Frankenstein" doesn't. Although I did enjoy a lot of "Young Frankenstein" I wish it had kept more of the sendup of the horror movie genre. I think some of the wit and satire of the original is lost.

At 09 November, 2007, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Esther, I guess my biggest surprise in reading today's reviews is that I thought the show would be tightened considerably from when I saw it in Seattle. That apparently has not been the case. As much as I love Megan Mullally, I thought two of her songs could easily have been excised.

At 09 November, 2007, Anonymous Doug L said...

Nobody is happy when a story changes forms. While I agree, that some of the funny may have been lost creating songs for the musical from the movie, but it is still entertaining and fun. And Funny. Tony Award winning? Probably, but not because of anything innovative, daring, or groundbreaking with the exception of set design.

What is it about a musical being made into a movie? How can you not make a movie about a theatrical production and not have it, well, in a theater? The stage and theater is a pretty important part of the story in "The Producers" and say "A Chorus Line," is it not? At least The Producers movie did have the non-theater elements well represented. I don't know how the critics of that movie "it was so much like a theatrical production" would have changed the inside theater elements and done it differently? what about filming a theatrical production do you do differently, shoot it on a football field? Or make it more realistic and do the numbers out on a real battlefield. Let's keep the theater parts in the theater and film them as well as The Producers movie did. Don't make me go all "Dream Girls" on you. Hmmm, that had some theater scenes in it, and interestingly enough, they were done in a theater. Wuite well I think.

And I must say, that the musical production of Young Franknstein I saw in Seattle did an excellent job of giving us great "movie" elements and effects. The horse cart ride to the castle was quite creative!

Let's face it a movie about a theatrical production really needs.....a theater.

OK, your right. I don't expect the Wicked Musical Movie to be shot theater style, but then again, that story doesn't include a theatrical scene, does it. Ooops, I forgot, it did..... "We'll be late for Wizomania!" Have at it already critics...I am sure in "OZ" they will do it differently.

At 09 November, 2007, Anonymous Esther said...

You're right about the horse cart ride to the castle. That was terrific, funny and very inventive. I loved those horses! I think that's when I got over my disappointment with the two earlier scenes.


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