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Mixed Reviews for "Young Frankenstein"

Mel Brooks' Broadway musical adaptation of his 1974 movie comedy Young Frankenstein opened last week. Can it match the success of The Producers, Brooks' previous screen-to-stage adaptation?

A big budget ($16 million plus), big stars (including Roger Bart, Megan Mullally, and Shuler Hensley), and big ticket prices (record-setting $450 "premiere seating") seem to suggest so. But reviews of the show have been less grand.

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Eric Grode writes in his review for the New York Sun:

Mr. Brooks, director Susan Stroman,  and the rest of the creative team behind The Producers — the Tony-winningest show in history, lest you forget — have conspired to bring us this shrill, misbegotten, deeply cynical enterprise.

It's hard to determine exactly where this latest attempt goes so grievously astray... But with the exception of about a dozen jokes (nearly all of which were pulled verbatim from the film) and an Act II showstopper, the final product has a shockingly lackadaisical, dashed-off quality that no amount of whiz-bang stagecraft can conceal. It's as if the fruits of an early, not terribly fruitful brainstorming session were lavished with literally millions of dollars.

From the New York Times review by Ben Brantley:

Even by the blaring standards of Broadway, Young Frankenstein... stands out for its loudness — in its ear-splitting amplification, eye-splitting visual effects and would-be side-splitting jokes. It’s as if the production had been built on the premise that its audiences would be slow on the uptake and hard of hearing, the sort of folks who would say: “That pun flew right by me. Could you repeat it a couple of times, louder?”

The show takes many of the elements that made The Producers such a delight and then saps them of their joy by overselling them.

Young_frankenstein Meanwhile, Charles McNulty's L.A. Times review is only slightly more forgiving:

Sure, the new musical -- replete with the kind of pastiche novelty songs that Brooks has made his specialty -- has deliciously diverting patches, but too often it leaves us noticeably shy of that laugh-induced state of delirium he has always been better at instigating than sustaining.

And Peter Marks writes for the Washington Post:

Robin Wagner's sets, especially the gewgaw- and tube-laden laboratory, imbue the production with the appealing veneer of a lavishly appointed Broadway show. But any of the polished accouterments are upstaged by casting miscues, wan choreography and the relentlessly second-rate score. Ensemble numbers such as "He's Loose" and "Join the Family Business" -- the latter a shambles of a dream sequence -- leave the impression of being poured onto the stage like this-and-that ingredients of a chopped salad.

Idolaters of the Brooks mystique might find the evening sufficiently silly. Many others, though, will be scratching their heads, wondering how the jokes could have come to be spread so thin. So if what matters to you is bang for your entertainment buck, don't be surprised if the musical-comedy ballistics of Young Frankenstein seem designed less for a cannon than for a BB gun.

Harsh words, indeed. But let us know what you think. If you've seen the show for yourself, leave a comment.

Note: In the wake of the ongoing stagehands strike on Broadway, negative reviews of the new show might be less damaging, since Young Frankenstein is reportedly one of only eight Broadway productions still running (those shows remained open because they are playing in theaters that have separate contracts with the union). Be sure to check out Back Stage for ongoing strike coverage.

-- Daniel Lehman

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Comments

Well, Roger Bart SUCKS!
he RUINED the show single-handedly! he's FINE as a character actor playing a silly queer, fag, sissy, mary, girl named carman ghia...or a demented psycho-deranged pharmacologist. but, as a leading man, he just can't cut it. when he had to sing and dance he nearly let himself go and in one number was quite good. but he was absolutley fucking awful. i was wishing for nathan lane, or anyone. everyone else is SO ZANY and over the top...he just can't cut it and sticks OUT badly!
as for the rest of the show, at intermission i was OVER THE MOON! beside roger bart and a DEAD untalented chorus (who looked so bored in the opening number it was shocking) the show had life and fun and snappy and peppy and great, creative numbers and beautifully designed and great direction and vision. i forgave the lead role's performance and a crappy opening number because the rest was so good. and the only LOUD part was the raising of the monster with electric whiz sounds and thunderous surround-sound effects which i thought was great and necessary. it was well done...
but...the SECOND act was a real downer. aside form the hermit scene, which was great and the 'puttin' on the ritz' number, which was great, it really fell apart and ended with a complete downward spiral plane crashing into a field in new jersey.
the jokes we know were so over played and so over the top that they worked again and again and it was all good fun.
and the cast was magnificent, aside from bart. the IGOR was the best! he's the real deal. andrea martin was a close second. megan m had a tiny part. one number in the first act at the train station, like in the movie which was her best part. but she really sold it. strangely, her head voice wasn't used. she BELTED. and with that 'karen walker' voice i was expecting a madeline kahn type singing voice. but it was all belt. the monster was terrific but didn't sing till the end. sutton foster was great and the cop/hermit, played by the same guy was great as the hermit and ok as the cop. i think that was everyone. but they all tried to really lift the boring parts, and succeeded but so much of the second half relied on bart and the chorus , too, that it just couldn't hold up to the first part. and the script got cheap, too.
but the first act was great!

The show was amazing! Roger Bart is so talented.. LOVED EVERY MOMENT!! I didn't want it to end. I'm actually thinking about going back to NYC to see it again, haha. What a great show... if you haven't seen it, please do!

I actually felt the opposite of Steven. I found the first act rather dull but thought the second act was terrific. I agree, however, that Bart just wasn't very good. The supporting cast was awesome though, and I have officially become a fan of Sutton Foster after this.

I guess we can only hope it runs long enough that they can find a new lead.

The songs were good. Nothing that's going to change your life, but then who looks for that in a musical comedy? The characters, sets, and songs were entertaining and for me, that's enough. I highly recommend for a light evening.

Roger Bart was horrendous and should have his Equity card revoked. He cannot carry a role like this--no presence and no character. Sutton Foster seemed bored by the whole thing. Megan Mullally's understudy was on when I saw it. The Playbill said it was her "broadway debut". They should send her back to community theatre. Just dreadful!

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