“Read the book. It’s much better than the movie,” we’re frequently advised. After seeing the Mel Brooks/Thomas Meehan musical “Young Frankenstein” this weekend, my final assessment mimics that oft-heard cliché: stick to the movie.
The Gas South Broadway Series presented “Young Frankenstein” at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre from March 29 through April 1 in a touring production that, surprisingly, has been going strong for several years now. Based on the 1974 film masterpiece directed by Brooks, starring Gene Wilder and co-written by the two, the stage version remains faithful to much of the dialogue and shtick that we know and love from the movie. The one-liner “What knockers!” gets big laughs, delivered by A.J. Holmes precisely as Wilder tossed it off.
The newly minted monster, hilariously executed by Rory Donovan, visits the blind man (played by Gene Hackman in the movie and Britt Hancock in the show) and has hot soup poured into his lap exactly as it’s done in the movie. And a pair of horses neigh every time Frau Blücher’s name is uttered.
Indeed, director Susan Stroman, who directed and choreographed Brooks’ Tony Award-winning musical “The Producers,” clearly recognized the brilliance of the movie and knew that its fans would anticipate those great moments. She retained them for the Broadway production that premiered in 2007. The problem is that the musical numbers throughout the show — with the exception of Irving Berlin’s “Puttin’ on the Ritz” — are unsatisfying and overstate the subtle and not-so-subtle comic moments that work so well in the movie. Frau Blücher’s “He Vas My Boyfriend” shoots for bawdy and ends up being tiresome. Pat Sibley, the veteran of the show, played and sang the part giftedly and did the best she could with the number. The real low point, “Deep Love,” is first sung by Frankenstein’s self-absorbed fiancée Elizabeth (Lexie Dorsett) and is reprised by the monster. It’s beyond forgettable, musically and dramatically.
This stage version of “Young Frankenstein” isn’t completely dead on arrival and does have one thing going for it: promising talent in its young cast. A.J. Holmes, a recent University of Michigan graduate, undertook the portrayal of an iconic actor’s mad scientist and made it his own. His rendition was kooky and twitchy, his lines and singing delivered with a hint of nasality. Elizabeth Pawloski played Inga, the Transylvanian trollop, with fabulous comic timing and impressive yodeling in her feature number, “A Roll in the Hay.” And then there was Igor (that’s “Eye-gor” to you), played by the wildly talented Christopher Timson. His momentum was integral to the show and his vocal resources impressive.
The movie is a classic that is dear to our hearts. The musical? A little far towards Abby-Normal.