“Transylvania Mania” at Eisenhower Auditorium
Young Frankenstein, Mel Brooks’ classic parody of the original Frankenstein, is my least favorite of his films. But how did Young Frankenstein — a musical adaptation which stopped at Eisenhower Auditorium last night — measure up? Aside from some groan-worthy humor, it definitely improved on the original.
Young Frankenstein follows the grandson of mad scientist Victor Frankenstein as he comes to Transylvania to inherit his family castle, laboratory, and servants (a hunchback named Igor, a woman unfortunately named Frau Blucher, and a blonde bombshell named Inga). Though Frederick Frankenstein– he prefers the pronunciation “Fronkensteen” –is initially reluctant to embrace the past, he eventually decides to carry on with his grandfather’s research into the reanimation of the dead. You can guess how the rest of the story goes.
While Blazing Saddles has some deeper social commentary and The Producers satire shows business, Young Frankenstein (the movie and the musical) is straight farce. The original wasn’t one of my favorites because it wasn’t really laugh out loud funny, and this version’s humor is even goofier. As you would expect from a Mel Brooks production, the musical was full of very broad jokes and sexual innuendos, but the constant winking to the audience got on my nerves. Igor especially seemed overloaded with quips, and lacked the slightly menacing feeling he had in the original film. I lost track of how many crotch shots there were.
But every now and then, the craziness that could only be in a Broadway show peeked through. In a gypsy-eque number, “Join the Family Business,” Frederick has a nightmare where his mad scientist ancestors — complete with their own blonde lab assistants — try to convince him to go crazy too, including a tall Frankenstein puppet. Inga’s memorable “roll in the hay” scene was promoted to a full musical number, which actually worked well. Later in the show, Inga has a song called “Listen to Your Heart,” in which she embodies many “dumb blonde” stereotypes as she sings “Let’s be stupid together.”
“Puttin’ On the Ritz” receives a grand treatment in the second act, similar to “Springtime for Hitler” in The Producers. That number alone was worth seeing this show.
A. J. Holmes as Frederick Frankenstein did a fantastic job leading the show. His frantic, slightly crazy straight-man anchored the other characters, especially with the song “Man About Town” that he sings to the monster. Pat Sibley as Frau Blucher got a lot of laughs with her ballad “He Vas My Boyfriend.” Lexie Dorset, as Frederick’s “adorable madcap fiancé” Elizabeth, energized the second act. Her character was played by Megan Mullaly in the original Broadway production, and Dorset definitely keeps the same spirit.
It’s always interesting to see how touring productions use Eisenhower Auditorium and a less complex staging. This production seemed to depend on painted backdrops for the set (amusingly, one of the town buildings was called “The Rathskeller”) and strobe lights. I found myself wishing for some good old fashioned fake brickwork in the castle.
But the cast definitely had energy and committed to every joke, no matter how corny. The musical closed out the Center for the Performing Arts’ Broadway season with laughs, and while there wasn’t too much spectacle, it was a fun way to pass the evening.