The hit 1979 film Young Frankenstein, written by Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder with Brooks directing, parodied Mary Shelley’s gothic horror novel Frankenstein all the way to the bank. Nearly three decades later, the film was turned into a Broadway musical with Brooks writing the music and lyrics, and the book with Thomas Meehan.
And now, the musical has landed in Calgary at Stage West, albeit with some loose nuts and bolts.
Directed by J. Sean Elliott, Young Frankenstein stages the story of Victor von Frankenstein’s grandson, Dr. Frederick Frankenstein (Kevin Dennis). Living in New York City is perfect for Frederick who wants nothing to do with his grandfather’s legacy of creating monsters. All that changes, however, when Frederick receives news that he has inherited his family’s estate in Transylvania. Frederick travels to Transylvania, leaving behind his fiancee Elizabeth (Adrienne Merrell), and soon befriends Igor (Greg Pember), the grandson of Victor’s own sidekick. The scientist finds a new lab assistant in Inga (Amanda Struthmann), a beautiful young woman with a degree in Laboratory Science.
Tormented by the ghosts of his ancestors, Frederick sets out to create a monster of his own, much to the delight of his grandfather’s former girlfriend Frau Blucher (Jayne Lewis). Unable to contain his creation, The Monster (Adam Stevenson) runs amok in Transylvania.
Young Frankestein features plenty of Broadway flair with its catchy, although not very memorable, musical numbers, choreographed by Phil Nero. Flair alone is not enough to carry the show. Young Frankenstein is a throwback to classic Broadway musicals, but infused with Brooks’ obscene, often deadpan humour that audiences either laugh at or shrug their shoulders. The jokes either sometimes lack subtlety and/or are just plain offensive.
The Monster’s entire schtick is that he was given an ‘abnormal’ brain (instead of a renowned scientist’s brain), resulting in a low intelligence that makes it difficult for him to speak or articulate words properly. The humour of “Puttin’ On The Ritz” (by Irvin Berlin) relies entirely on The Monster’s shouting and screaming of the lyrics. The musical number becomes very uncomfortable when you realize the whole joke is focused on laughing at someone with a disability.
And then there’s the whole bit with the blind hermit that pours hot soup on The Monster…
If audiences can overlook show’s questionable humour, the musical is fairly entertaining thanks to its talented cast. Dennis and Pemper are quite the team as scientist and sidekick, delivering big laughs as they bumble their way through the scientific method together. Struthmann’s pipes make “Roll in The Hay” a fun hayride, yodelling and all. Dressed with large boots, Stevenson stands very tall as The Monster, making his dancing all the more impressive (it’s a long way down!). Lewis really steals the show as Fran Blucher, though, who she plays like a lustful, much sterner Morticia Addams – yes, the horse gag is present, by the way.
Leslie Robinson-Greene’s bright, eye-popping costume designs for the production are marvelous, as are Leon Schwesinger’s set designs. The production looks great under JP Thibodeau’s dynamic stage lighting.
Audiences expecting the film translated beat for beat on the stage will be sorely disappointed as Brooks’ show is an entirely different beast altogether. The fault is not with Stage West, but the adaptation itself. Brooks’ musical numbers do little to sustain the show, besides allowing time for scene changes. The show is not much of a creative departure from the film. Add in the show’s offensive humour, and Young Frakenstein becomes even less appealing. So, what is it? Call it an unnecessary adaptation only fans of Brooks’ signature humour will truly appreciate.
Audiences can miss Stage West’s Young Frankenstein.
Stage West’s Young Frakenstein runs April 22 – June 26.
For more information about the show, including how to purchase tickets, visit: http://stagewestcalgary.com/young-frankenstein-the-musical-by-mel-brooks/