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Review: 'Youg Frankenstein' National Tour at Princess of Wales Theatre

Just how much you will enjoy the musical Young Frankenstein will depend largely on your liking for schoolboy jokes about knockers and bodily functions.

As a high school student I did not share my classmates’ enthusiasm for Gene Wilder and Mel Brooks’ film when it hit movie theatres in the 1970s, and I’m sorry to say that on stage it just seems like another failed attempt to make a big musical comedy out of a popular film.

Yes, the formula worked brilliantly with The Producers but that particular story lent itself to becoming a full-fledged musical. It helped that even though the script had its share of poor taste it also crammed in many theatrical in jokes, and some genuinely funny business for the leads. It also had a score that paid tribute to Broadway tradition sounding so much like songs from the great white way’s golden age that some might be forgiven for thinking they were seeing a revival.

With Young Frankenstein, however, Mel Brooks has failed to find a musical language that supports the material, so he uses the same formula and it doesn’t jibe with the story. The show offers one outstanding number: Irving Berlin’s “Puttin’ on the Ritz” inventively choreographed by Susan Stroman. It comes too late to salvage a show that stubbornly refuses to come to life no matter how much lightning Peter Kaczorowski and his lighting team can muster.

Once the flashing stops we get a look at a hugely talented cast in need of much stronger material. Joanna Glushak as Frau Blucher is a prime example. Give the lady some material to work with and she could be a riot. The songs she has been saddled with offer barely a chuckle.

So we have a book that isn’t all that funny and a score that fails to support it. Not a good start for a musical that even before it opened on Broadway we were told was the greatest musical ever written. It was a set-up for a really bad joke: the show was huge flop on Broadway. Even so, the producers decided to tour it hoping to cash in on the title recognition.

They were fortunate to secure the services of their Broadway leading man Roger Bart, who manages to bring some life to the proceedings with his nimble comic timing. In addition to his star performance (and a chance to see Shuler Hensley as the monster) there are also the spectacular sets that won waves from even the most discerning New York critics. .

The key difference that separates Young Frankenstein from The Producers is that Gene Wilder wrote the original screenplay for the former, and although it was tweaked by Brooks, it doesn’t have his hallmark multi-layered comic invention. It’s all variations of the same type of jokes and Brooks compounds this by offering little variety in the music and lyrics.

Having said all of this I must add that there were many in the audience who seemed to be having a good time, so maybe it is just a matter of taste.

 

Young Frankenstein plays at the Princess of Wales through Sunday April 18. For tickets go to www.mirvish.com or call (416) 872-1212.



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From This Author Mark Andrew Lawrence

Mark Andrew Lawrence began his broadcasting career as music director for St. Catharines radio station CHRE. After six years there and eight years at classical (read more...)