Garrick Theatre, London
A TRANSYLVANIAN TRANSPORT OF DELIGHT… Sometimes you just want a bit of fun. That is the moment to turn to Mel Brooks, master of daft parody. At 91, the master strode onstage tonight with director Susan Stroman, and told us that the only thing wrong with this glorious London launch of his 2007 Broadway show – his own musical based on his film – was that all us bastards got in free. Cue cheers, standing ovations and a wild hoofing reprise from the cast during which I fled to write this.
Because it is a pleasure to tell you that, whatever your doubts about making musicals out of beloved films, this one pretty much works just as well as The Producers did before it. And there is special satisfaction in letting Britain demonstrate that it can effortlessly raise a cast to delight the Brooks and Stroman and the rest of us. So you need a Gene-Wilder type, earnest and bewildered as the grandson of Viktor Frankenstein? We have Hadley Fraser.
Want a crazy sinister old housekeeper with a terrifying goose-step and worrying erotic memories? Step forward, Lesley Joseph. A diva for a mighty love song? Dianne Pilkington. Were you worried that nobody can rock a humpback and a bat-flapping cloak like Marty Feldman in the film? Fear not, there’s Ross Noble. He has just the right manic edge. For a one-armed one-legged Mayor doubling as a blind bearded slapstick hermit, we can offer Patrick Clancy, who even manages a unique transformation in the curtain call.
And when there is a need for a glorious, shameless, leg-flashing, top-hoofing comedy blonde bombshell who is able and willing to do the splits in frilly knickers on a sinister lab gurney without even holding the rusty chains, Britain can proudly supply a Strallen. Summer Strallen as Inga, in this case, and very fine too. So is the swing chorus: Nathan Elwick, in particular, getting a nice pair of cameos. Only The Creature himself is a US import – Shuler Hensley. And he played it on Broadway, so it would be criminal not to re-use his talent for roaring, stumping, staggering, and finally bursting into neat tap to Put On The Ritz before miraculously morphing into a Noel-Coward gentleman-roué.
So pure and almost constant pleasure, sharp and witty from Fraser’s opening number “There is nothing like a brain” which reassures us that Brooks is as determined to pay mocking homage to the musical genre itself as he was to 1930s horror films. It is slyly self-referential all the way through, the numbers echoing everything from Oklahoma to Les Miserables. Favourite jokes from the film are there in script, but it is the newness of the musical line that delights. Frankenstein’s frigid fiancée has a particularly original number Please Don’t Touch Me (“You can squeeze me till I scream, if it’s only in a dream”), waltzing touchlessly into a very good gag about Catholic girls’ schools. As for the hay-cart on which Inga takes Frankenstein to the castle (with splendid horse and wolf behaviour) words fail me. So enjoy hers – “When life is awful, just jump on a strawful, and have a roll in the hay”.
Any time, any time. Enjoy the daft jokes, relish the pace (only slows down a bit, in the villagers’ scenes, before the barnstorming Act 1 closer with the Creature rampaging down the aisle). Cheer for the splendidly disgraceful objectification of women with big breasts and a Creature with unusual endowment south of the belt. Take a happy break from news bulletins about Brexit. Mel Brooks loves us, so we must be all right after all.
box office 0844 482 9673 to 10 Feb.