The original is one of my favorite comedies, and I'm hardly alone in this.
(Actually, I have a theory that Brooks was always at his best when he worked with Gene Wilder: Aside from Brooks, what do Young Frankenstein, Blazing Saddles, and the original film of The Producers all have in common?)
Oh, but you want to know how was the show, don't you? Well, if I tell you before the first act ended my hands already hurt from applauding, does that answer your question? Young Frankenstein, the musical, is first and foremost a good old fashioned pull-out-all-the-stops musical farce.
"Puttin On The Ritz" got the biggest hand of the night, and it's not just because audiences recognized it from the film (which they did), or because it's such a great old song (which it is).
Director and choregrapher Susan Stroman, repeating her duties from The Producers, has expanded the number into a great spectacle, which goes for the whole production, full of magic and stagecraft.
The characters are barely developed, but who the $& cares? What you want to know is was it fun, was it funny; it was both, with lots and lots of thinly dressed women and even more thinly dressed entendre.
I don't know about you, but that's what I call a night in the theater.
Being so familiar with the original, I worried slightly beforehand that I would constantly be comparing and finding any new variants wanting. Fortunately, this hardly ever happened. Mostly this was due to the fine cast, about whom more in a moment.
All the principals seemed to know how to touch on the performances of their filmic forebears without becoming mere imitations.
And boy, could they milk a joke. When Frederick and Elizabeth laugh over his leaving her alone with all of her single men friends, they stretched it out to get three separate and growing laughs from the audience.
Also working in the show's favor, I suspect, is that Brooks and his co-author, Thomas Meehan, know that audiences are more familiar with the original film than they may have been with The Producers, Brooks' last film-into-musical.
As films, The Producers was a cult success, but Young Frankenstein was a top-grossing, Oscar-nominated hit; one of the funniest movies of all time. So the writers know we're anticipating key moments ("What knockers!") and use that against us...and for themselves, by playing up to them.
As Dr. Frederick Frankenstein, Rober Bart keeps a manic edge, vocally, he reminded me more than once of Matthew Broderick on the Producers Original Broadway Cast Album-not surprsingly, since he followed Broderick in the role (and Wilder, of course, created both parts). Desperate Housewives watchers may know Bart from a role he played on that primetime soap.
But as someone behind me pointed out during the intermission, it's a little weird that the biggest "star" name away from New York is playing what still is a very little part: Megan Mullally, from Will And Grace, plays Elizabeth, the Doctor's fiancee.
On the other hand, four of the other leads (including Bart) are Tony winners, something I imagine means as much as Mullally's TV fame, if not more, on The Great White Way. Mullally gets a star's entrance applause-and may set some sort of record for longest note held while singing the word "tits."
But if there's a star female performance in the new version, it's that of Sutton Foster, who plays labratory assistant Inga. Foster (Seen below, with Bart) has legs that go all the way down to the floor, a smiling face that radiates the joy of performing, and a way with a comedy line.
As if that weren't enough (and it might be, for me) she can both sing and yodel. You heard me, yodel.
Her first number, "A Roll In The Hay" recieved the biggest round of applause of any original song of the evening (Only "Puttin' On The Ritz" topped it, and come on...).
She also has what I took to be the best song in the show, near the beginning of Act Two: "Listen To Your Heart."
I know that title makes it seem like a cliche, but it's got music and lyrics of which Brooks can be genuinely proud.
Quick aside: Speaking of song titles, when was the last time you went to a musical where just reading a title in the program beforehand gave you a laugh?
Well, that's what I experienced when I looked down and saw the name of Frederick's opener: "There Is Nothing Like The Brain."
Shuler Hensley is the monster; unfortunately, it's the performance that suffers most onstage. It's not Hensley's fault, he dances and moans up a storm. But onscreen, the benefit of closeups of the late Peter Boyle's face gives his creature a heart that this one just can't have.
As a matter of fact, the movie in general has a heart that this version just can't have. For the most part, this is an acceptable tradeoff for what it offers that the film cannot.
Andrea Martin is the horse-terrifying Frau Blucher. She also gets a warm round of applause on her entrance that speaks to the esteem in which people hold her from her film and television appearances.
But, like Megan Mullally, she's a bit wasted, on the other hand, her song "He Vas My Boyfriend" is better than any of Mullally's, and staged with a bit of Marlene.
Christopher Fitzgerald is Igor, the sometime hunchback. To my mind, his performance suffered once or twice in comparison with the late Marty Feldman, whose throwaway delivery on some classic lines I did miss.
But what Fitzgerald gets dead on (you should pardon the expression in this context) is the sheer happiness with which Igor performs his mischevious tasks. To this trait from the original character has been added a wide streak of camp.
Yes, I was shocked and horrified too. I'm sure the drag queen sitting a few rows from me was equally taken aback.
The rest of the ensemble is made up partly of handsome, muscular young men who I'm sure the gay fellas and straight women in the audience appreciated. (Any gay women in the audience may have appreciated a moment or two with Mullally).
But I'm going to dismiss the boys with those few words in order to devote myself to the gorgeous distaff collective. My friends. It's a toss-up as to which are the two most beautiful words in the English language:
"Chorus girls," "garter belts" or "G-strings." Put them all together and you have the reason any straight man ever does anything, right there onstage.
"Shortie Nurse's costumes" is pretty good, too-and whoever decided they should put those costumes back on for the curtain call deserves some kind of special Tony Award.