Monday, August 13, 2007

Young Frankenstein (The SOB Preview)

Young Frankenstein (The SOB Preview) - The Paramount, Seattle, WA

***1/2 (out of ****)

Is Young Frankenstein any good? That would be "The $450 Question."

Or perhaps more incisively, is it worth $450 per ticket? That, my friends depends entirely upon your point of view.

Personally, I could never bring myself to spend that kind of money on a theatre ticket as I think I've already made abundantly clear. But if all things are truly relative, I can tell you that I enjoyed this nearly Broadway-ready Young Frankenstein much, much more than Jersey Boys, where the top seats fetch a farfetched $351.50.

Over this past weekend, I flew to Seattle to take in the out-of-town tryout of Mel Brooks' Young Frankenstein, and I can tell you it has monster hit written all over it. Yes, plenty of tinkering remains to be completed (can somebody please give a hand to sound designer Jonathan Deans -- the entire first couple tunes were so muffled that I could barely understand what was being sung), and yes, it currently runs about a half hour too long (vooof!), but overall, Brooks' latest film-cum-stage musical is funny, funny, funny.

And in answer to the original question, yes, it's pretty darned good, too.

Given that I saw the show only days into its first previews, what's remarkable is the nearly excellent shape in which Young Frankenstein already is for a show that will be further fine-tuned in the weeks ahead.

Credit Brooks and Thomas Meehan for embracing all of the signature lines and hysterical bits from the film and running with them. They're not only all here, but the rapt audience clearly anticipates each one, cheering enthusiastically as each is delivered with relish (now I finally know how all those Monty Python fans felt during Spamalot).

Yet, Brooks and Meehan expand on the story by offering up a more fully-realized Elizabeth thanks to a wickedly funny Megan Mullally, and Igor via an absolutely hilarious Christopher Fitzgerald -- Wicked's original Boq -- in an uproarious breakthrough performance that makes you all but forget Marty Feldman.

Fortunately, they're not alone. For my first-time ever, I finally saw Sutton Foster perform and got to see what the fuss is about; not only can she sing and dance with the best of them, she's a voluptuous laugh riot to boot as Inga. Her "Roll In The Hay" had me rolling in the aisle. As much as I hoped to see Cloris Leachman recreate the role of Frau Blucher, there's no better substitute than the pricelessly droll Andrea Martin, who delights with nodding approval from neighing horses; her "He Vas My Boyfriend" underscores her comedic versatility. And while a monster of few words, Shuler Hensley makes for about the most lovable bogeyman ever -- just ask Mullally, who sings down the house with her risible "Deep Love."

The toughest role certainly falls on former second-stringer and Tony-winner Roger Bart, who finally graduates to a leading role with plenty of comic pizzazz. While it takes a while for his Dr. Frederick Frankenstein to rise to the heights of Gene Wilder from the silver screen version, his winning madness and heart ultimately win the audience over.

Despite sprinklings of vampires and werewolves, surprisingly few of the tunes by Mel Brooks capture the lunacy of The Producers, but as noted above, this is still a work in progress. Although I still recall the strains of the aforementioned "Deep Love," along with "Together Again For The First Time" when Frederick and Igor forge their bond, if I were to guess which tunes would go away to speed along the narrative, I'd suggest the throwaway "Welcome To Transylvania" or the needless "Please Send Me Someone" by the one-scene Hermit.

Perhaps it's for these reasons that the real showstopping tune turns out not to be a newly written Brooks piece, but instead, Irving Berlin's borrowed "Puttin' On The Ritz." Like a Busby Berkeley extravaganza, this signature tune catapults Young Frankenstein to the highest heights of hilarity.

Thanks to the unique vision of director/choreographer Susan Stroman, these Transylvanian hills come alive, not only with the sound of music, but also with enchanting stagecraft. Robin Wagner has outdone himself with Frankenstein's laboratory alone, but when you add everything from a ocean-going ship to Frankenstein Castle's grand hall, add a dose of Marc Brickman's enchanting projection designs and throw in Peter Kaczorowski's brilliant lighting design, suddenly there's more magic than you can shake a beaker at. Then, of course, there's William Ivey Long's wide-ranging costume design that bridges New York chic with Transylvania geek.

I fully trust that the final product that bows on Broadway will be precision perfect, but this is as abby-normally terrific as you can get this early.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

Click here for Young Frankenstein tickets (Seattle).
Click here for Young Frankenstein tickets (Broadway).
Related Stories:
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 14 August, 2007, Blogger Sarah B. Roberts said...

I can't wait to see it, BUT I will wait for a cheap seat! And really Sutton had you rolling in the aisles? I'll believe it when I see it for myself. I have found her to be merely adequate - no sparkle, no shine, completely yawnsville in Little Women (well that WAS material) and almost equally boring in Drowsy Chaperone (again, dull material). Perhaps this is the director and the show who finally brings out the star in her for me.

At 14 August, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great preview! "Abby normal" is one of my favorite bits of dialogue from the movie! In fact, I watched the movie again over the weekend and it just seems so perfect it's hard to believe anything could top it.

Wow, Christopher Fitzgerald made you all but forget Marty Feldman? Now that's something I've got to see! I'm glad you had such a great time. I'm getting pretty excited. (Although not $450 worth of excitement!)

A few other reviews I've read have also mentioned how every memorable line of dialogue from the movie is in the musical and that many of the tunes aren't so memorable. So is it that much better than the movie, equally as good or just different?

At 14 August, 2007, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Sarah, Well not literally rolling in the aisles, but her shtick as Inga in the hay wagon, incredibly animated thanks to Marc Brickman's special effects, was pure joy to behold.

Of course, I never did get to see her in Thoroughly Modern Millie, Little Women or The Drowsy Chaperone because her understudies were hard at work in her place during the specific performances I saw.

But all is "forgiven" now that I saw how terrific she really is. And she really is!

At 14 August, 2007, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...


If there is just one Tony nominated performance from Young Frankenstein -- and I personally believe there could very well be at least four or five -- it will be Christopher Fitzgerald. He was exceptional.

As for the music, well, when you have the dramatic special effects and all the great lines nailed down perfectly, the offering made for a wonderful evening at the theatre. And to be honest, I don't know that I love the film or the stage version better - my enjoyment for both registered differently.

At 14 August, 2007, Blogger LizG said...

I was looking forward to your review, Steve. I saw the Saturday matinee and just loved the show. I can't recall hearing that level of laughter in a musical ever. There is some tightening to be done, for sure, and judging by the number of note cards Susan Stroman was sharing with the crew at intermission (I was sitting beside them in the foyer), she agrees as well.


At 14 August, 2007, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Dear MaxieM,

Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Would love to compare notes!

I certainly agree that the audience was absolutely primed and responded with thunderous applause and laughter. It's going to kill once it gets tightened up!


At 16 October, 2007, Blogger Paul J said...

Saw the show last night(!). I think this is going to be a "monster" hit.

It's not as "smart" as "The Producers", and the songs only come close to that show once or twice. But this "Young Frankenstein" is one heck of a spectacle (I won't give anything away here, except to say that the Hilton is an ENORMOUS theater with a huge stage, and this entire production is designed to fit), and works just fine as musical homage to the unbeatable 1974 "Young Frankenstein".

The casting is very good to excellent; notably Roger Bart starts off strong and continues to grow on you as the show goes on. And the diminutive Andrea Martin virtually steals the show ("He Vas My Boyfriend") on a stage that way-outsizes her.

In short, go see the show, and as long as you don't go in expecting the sheer brilliance of the 1974 movie or the musical brilliance of "The Producers" on Broadway, you'll have a fine time indeed.

At 16 October, 2007, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

PJ, Glad you enjoyed the show. I agree wholeheartedly about the amazing Andrea Martin.

Would be curious to know how much you spent on your tickets.

At 16 October, 2007, Blogger Paul J said...

Bought the tix on Sept 28 (go figure!), 4th row orchestra right (Row A). They were $ 120.00 each plus the usual "statutory rates" ( an additional $ 8.00 plus $ 3.15 order processing charge).

At 16 October, 2007, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

PJ, That's outstanding, and quite surprising to be honest. Sounds like you got a rare deal - and congratulations on not having to spend $450 to sit where you did.

At 29 October, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just saw it Saturday on Broadway...great time! Fun and entertaining. Mel Brooks own's shtick like no one else. Finally--unpretentious Broadway. And why is everyone focusing on reviewing "the ticket price?"
Not all seats are $450. I sat in orchs for $120. Expensive but not $450.

At 29 October, 2007, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Why? Because $450 is obscene. Still, I'm glad you got good orchestra seats for a reasonable $120 - I hope that means that ticket prices are quietly going back to a reasonable level.

At 23 January, 2008, Blogger buddyindc1 said...

I saw Young Frankenstein on 1/18 and it was an outstanding production. What were those negative critics watching? If anyone is one fence about seeing it - BUY YOUR TICKETS NOW! Sutton Foster was not in the show on 1/18. Too bad since I hear she is fabulous. The rest of the cast was terrific and the music is memorable. After the show, Meagan Mullaley took pictures with everyone waiting in the cold and was gracious in signing everyone's program. - a class act!

At 23 January, 2008, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Hey Buddy, As I mentioned yesterday (January 21), I think the critics had their daggers out for the show because of all of Mel Brooks' shenanigans, and the flood of bad stories just keeps on a comin'.


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