A decade after the mega-budget follow-up to The Producers flopped on Broadway, Mel Brooks is back with a scaled down Young Frankenstein, this time on London’s West End. The sets may be smaller, but the laughs are just as big.
Back when premium ticket pricing was just in its infancy, Young Frankenstein seemed like a winning bet. Composer Mel Brooks and director/choreographer Susan Stroman were together again for the second time, attempting to replicate to the box office and award season success of mega-hit The Producers.
Sadly, lightning did not strike twice, and the new show, although over-produced, was nonetheless lost in the cavernous Hilton Theatre (now the Lyric Theatre). Ten years later, the producers have chosen a far more intimate theatre, in which the comic performances of the cast can be seen and appreciated. The creative team has redesigned the production to have more of a low budget vibe, which is cleverly in line with the type of horror movies being lampooned.
Brooks replicates the Broadway of old, with a song per scene. In this new draft, a couple of act one chorus numbers have been excised while a couple more have been added for the lead characters, again keeping the main focus on the impressive talents of the cast. While none of the tunes are especially memorable, especially when sitting alongside Irving Berlin classic “Putting on the Ritz,” but there are plenty of daffy gags in the lyrics.
Scenic designer Beowulf Boritt redesigns the settings to consist mostly of painted backdrops rather than fully constructed scenery. The performance space on stage is generally tiny, keeping the focus tightly on each of the characters in any given scene.
William Ivey Long again delivers a delectable set of costumes. The mock-European stylings of the Transylvanians are decoratively lavish, and the lead characters are visually connected to their movie counterparts with a splash or two of originality. Long saves one of his trademark fast change tricks for the curtain calls, when the actor playing both Inspector Kemp and the Hermit flips his costume and hair mid-bow.
Stroman keeps performance energy sky high, occasionally cultivating the sort of frantic pace of actors who know they have to work overly hard to compensate for the writing. Still, the audience laps it up, and plenty of the laughs land successfully.
Stroman show her characteristic flair for quirky full company dance, also making signature use of props. Act two tap dance extravaganza “Putting on the Ritz” is a true show stopper.
West End leading man Hadley Fraser exhibits his versatility, incorporating comedy and even a bit of tap dancing into his usual romantic stylings. Fraser’s gorgeous voice is a pure luxury for the ditties he is required to sing as Doctor Frankenstein, although thankfully there are a few long high notes with which to impress.
UK comic Ross Noble completely throws himself into the role of bizarre hunchback Igor, earning the audience’s affection while also scoring many laughs.
Summer Strallen is innocence personified as Frankenstein’s new assistant Inga, a role that makes good use of both her physical beauty and her finely honed triple threat skills.
Lesley Joseph is perfectly cast as terrifying housekeeper Frau Blücher, playing up the devilishly sexy nature of the role to great effect.
Dianne Pilkington brings a delectably plummy tone to society girl turned bad, Elizabeth.
Nic Greenshield has an extraordinary physical presence as The Monster, and brings a nice touch of humanity to the pitiful creature.
Lovers of the original movie will be thrilled with the musical treatment of Young Frankenstein, and newcomers will have no difficulty finding plenty of unsophisticated laughs to enjoy.
Young Frankenstein was reviewed 7.30pm Monday 8 January 2018 at Garrick Theatre, London.