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'YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN' Tour Needs to Bulk Up

The first national tour of YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN is a ragtag and often sluggishly empty adaptation of Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder's comically classic 1974 spoof of Mary Shelley's Gothic novel.  Some thought Brooks over-zealous when his new Broadway musical opened in November of 2007, for what could be bigger and better than his Tony Award winning (and record-breaking smash) THE PRODUCERS?

As it turned out, the answer wasn't YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN, which closed in January of 2009.

Logistical restrictions are to blame for the bland nation tour current playing at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, but the show itself is not all bad.

Director and choreographer Susan Stroman, along with Mel Brooks, Thomas Meehan, and designers William Ivey Long & Robin Wagner, struck musical theatre gold with her success on THE PRODUCERSYOUNG FRANKENSTEIN was (and on tour, continues to be) a different story.  Brooks' script offers laughs a minute, but the tour's pacing seemed stagnant.  Shows like YOUNG and the recent SPAMALOT have built-in crowds who know exactly when, where, and how jokes will land.  The more unknown PRODUCERS blindsided its audience and used that to its advantage.  And where THE PRODUCERS used the musical genre to further its plot and flesh out already bawdy and colorful characters, YOUNG reduces itself to campy "Quick, someone cause a diversion!" production numbers.  Act 1's snoozer of a closer, the "Transylvania Mania," is a manic reminder of how well-crafted the "Along Came Bialy/We Can Do It" PRODUCERS finale is.

But this should not be a comparison piece.  Each are entirely different monsters in their own right.

Originally filmed in black and white ("No offense!" Brooks exclaims in the '74 trailer), YOUNG looses its Gothic charm and spoofy charisma amongst lavish and colorful costumes (courtesy of the always inventive Long) and full-on 1930's no-holds-barred production numbers, staged by Stroman, whose usual inventive touch is missing for the better portion of the show.  The biggest problem is the tour's stripped down incarnation of Wagner's design. (Even John Doyle's minimalist SWEENEY TODD revival managed to fill the Palace's cavernous stage with its stationary set.)  Specifically in Elizabeth's (Beth Curry) "Don't Touch Me" number, how did this once lavish Broadway juggernaut end up looking, of all things, cheap?

Problems aside, it must be stated that the performers, both leads and ensemble members alike, do their damnedest tap-dancing, schlap-schticking, flip-flopping, and yuck-yucking their way through Brooks and Meehan's script.  Held over from the Broadway production is Tony Award winner Roger Bart as the ever-active and charming title character.  While Bart carries the show with attempted gusto, Frederick sometimes conveys a passive air, as if he, or Bart himself, is over it.  Tony Award winner Shuler Hensley is comical as The Monster, but short of a 11th-hour reprise, his vocal talents go far underused.  Thankfully, Cory English's Igor and Joanna Glushak's Frau Blucher (whinny!) pepper in fresh interpretations, all the while preserving the likes of Marty Feldman & Cloris Leachman's iconic performances.  But the evening's standout is Brad Oscar's Blind Hermit who sings the show's sweetest song and portrays the tour's most in-tact scene from the film.  Hensley and Oscar nail it.

In a way, you will get your money's worth in terms of dance numbers, a vibrant sound design, and blinding flash bulbs.  The rest of the set or anything reminiscent of an inventive lighting design, not so much. Bottom line: YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN features extremely talent performers carrying an ok show on a lack-luster tour.  Unless you're in the mood for a complete departure from the 1974 film you grew to know and love, Nexflix the original and call it a night.  **1/2 out of *****

YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN runs now through December 13the at the Cadillac Palace Theatre.  For tickets and information, visit www.BroadwayInChicago.com.

PHOTOS: Paul Kolnik


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From This Author William Panek