“Though your genitalia
Has been known to fail ya
You can bet your ass on the brain”
It’s alive…barely. Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein staggers into the West End after some more time on the operating table since its 2007 Broadway opening (two new songs are among the changes made) and a short run in Newcastle to tighten the bolts. But for a piece of new musical theatre, it is so desperately old-fashioned that you half expect Russ Abbot and Bella Emberg to pop up and do a turn.
Given that Brooks is now over 90 and that the film on which it is based dates from 1974, it is perhaps little surprise that it feels dated. But also given director/choreographer Susan Stroman‘s close collaborative relationship with him, the opportunity to be necessarily brutal about what works and what doesn’t feels to have been lost, lightning really hasn’t struck twice for the creators of The Producers.
So Transylvania becomes a generic version of Mitteleuropa where four-time Olivier nominees are reduced to embarrassing yodelling damsel stereotypes, legends (don’t @ me) like Lesley Joseph are criminally underused as one-note supporting characters, there isn’t a single joke which isn’t milked until it stopped being funny 10 minutes ago, and the best musical number – in this new musical remember – is an extended dance break to Irving Berlin’s ‘Puttin’ On The Ritz’.
It’s a really good routine actually, Shuler Hensley‘s Creature nailing the joy that good musical theatre can bring, but it only exacerbates how disposable most of Brooks’ score is. There are spots of respite mainly due to the tireless performance level – Hadley Fraser as Frederick Frankenstein (‘it’s pronounced Fronkensteen!) is unflagging as the grandson of Victor who can’t escape his family’s legacy try as he might, and Dianne Pilkington as his heiress fiancée nails a rare musical highlight in ‘Please Don’t Touch Me’.
But when gay jokes and boob jokes and dick jokes are the order of the day rather than the skillful parody of the horror genre that made the film work, when characters are left so flimsy that there’s zero investment in any of them, when there’s so little originality on show when there’s so much potential, even Mary Shelley would be backing away from trying to reanimate this one.