PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.

'Young Frankenstein': Something's wrong in Transylvania

Linda Winer
Newsday (MCT)
YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN. Music and lyrics by Mel Brooks, book by Brooks and Thomas Meehan, directed and choreographed by Susan Stroman. Hilton Theatre, 213 W. 42nd St. Tickets $51.50-$121.50; 212-307-4100. Seen at Tuesday preview.

NEW YORK -- "Hump? What hump?" Anyone who grins reflexively at that line -- which means any of the zillions who cherish Mel Brooks' "Young Frankenstein" movie from 1974 -- can picture the precise moment when stooped, wild-eyed Igor uttered it.

But now imagine the words delivered in huge capital letters -- "HUMP? WHAT HUMP?" -- with the understatement of at least seven exclamation points, after which the actors playing Dr. Frankenstein and Igor pause, smirk at the audience and wait for their laugh.

"Young Frankenstein," which opened Thursday night with the same creative team that swept a record 12 musical Tony Awards for "The Producers" in 2001, is obviously the work of pros. The expert actors are never less than enjoyable as characters created, unforgettably, by the now-iconic movie cast. And Andrea Martin's Frau Blucher and Shuler Hensley's Monster are demonically adorable.

Is the show -- you know the question -- funny? Sometimes. But the sweat of competence drives too much of the vintage Brooks humor this time, and the staging by ace director-choreographer Susan Stroman seems more formula than invention. They clobber us with greatest-hits punchlines and repeat the jokes in each musical stanza until we can't always remember why we first loved them. At times, the mugging is so aggressive we feel bruised.

Don't assume this reaction to be part of the backlash that has poisoned some of the theater community since Brooks slapped a $480 price tag on a nightly chunk of what are called "premium" seats. Nor would I hold it against Brooks for not being humble enough after his "Producers" smash.

As Dr. Frederick Frankenstein (pronounced, of course, "Fronk-en-Steen"), Roger Bart makes one appreciate how much Gene Wilder did with how little in the film. Bart, with a pencil moustache and fluffy carrot hair, is a bit more like Snoopy than Carmen Ghia -- both roles he has owned on Broadway. Here he throws himself enthusiastically into all the busy vaudeville bits and makes a lot of big-old classic clown faces but, ultimately, seems more of a supporting player than the supporting players.

With her dare-me diva gusto and primal vocal belt, Megan Mullally gets to commune with the back balcony as the doctor's frigid fiance. She almost forces us to forgive the sluggish first act -- will we ever get to Transylvania? -- by enlivening an irrelevant production number before Frederick sails to his destiny. Better, she is wonderful in "Deep Love," the heavy-winking operetta about the Monster's endowments.

Sutton Foster finds just the right place to indulge her goofy-soubrette gifts (and her yodel) as Inga, the nubile assistant who offers Frederick the literal roll in the hay -- one of Stroman's most happily inventive scenes. Christopher Fitzgerald is very sweet as Igor (pronounced, of course, "Eye-gor"), though one's admiration of his talents may be affected by one's threshold for Stroman's more frantic vaudeville homage. Fred Applegate is delicious as the blind hermit, though doubling as the village inspector, even he can't find the joy in recycled Dr. Strangelove's dead-hand jokes.

We regret that Hensley, as the Monster, doesn't get to use his gorgeous baritone throughout the show, but he makes a splendidly human creature. Martin, with a major facial mole and the ability to move as if the air is thicker around her, sings "He Vas My Boyfriend" as Marlene Dietrich.

Stroman doesn't get to use her dancing chorus much and, when she does, the routines tend to stop the action and feel like filler. So much effort went into finding the look of old Universal horror movies that Robin Wagner's sets -- except for the strobe-electrified laboratory -- look too much like painted cardboard.

The best of Brooks' score is jaunty pastiche and parody -- Cole Porter, Gilbert and Sullivan and, for the still blissfully funny Monster mash, Irving Berlin's "Puttin On the Ritz." But unlike the lyrics from "The Producers," which had an onslaught of throw-away witticisms, many songs are dependent just on those famous jokes. William Ivey Long's costumes have great fun with 1934/Slavic-peasant looks and platform monster boots. Alas, something's wrong in Transylvania when the only thing in stitches is the creature's face.

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.





Peter Frampton Asks "Do You Feel Like I Do?" in Rock-Solid Book on Storied Career

British rocker Peter Frampton grew up fast before reaching meteoric heights with Frampton Comes Alive! Now the 70-year-old Grammy-winning artist facing a degenerative muscle condition looks back on his life in his new memoir and this revealing interview.


Bishakh Som's 'Spellbound' Is an Innovative Take on the Graphic Memoir

Bishakh's Som's graphic memoir, Spellbound, serves as a reminder that trans memoirs need not hinge on transition narratives, or at least not on the ones we are used to seeing.


Gamblers' Michael McManus Discusses Religion, Addiction, and the Importance of Writing Open-Ended Songs

Seductively approachable, Gamblers' sunny sound masks the tragedy and despair that populate the band's debut album.


Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.


In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.


The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.


The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.


The 20 Best Tom Petty Songs

With today's release of Tom Petty's Wildflowers & All the Rest (Deluxe Edition), we're revisiting Petty's 20 best songs.

Joshua M. Miller

The 11 Greatest Hits From "Greatest Hits" Compilations

It's one of the strangest pop microcosms in history: singles released exclusively from Greatest Hits compilations. We rounded 'em up and ranked 'em to find out what is truly the greatest Greatest Hit of all.


When Punk Got the Funk

As punks were looking for some potential pathways out of the cul-de-sacs of their limited soundscapes, they saw in funk a way to expand the punk palette without sacrificing either their ethos or idea(l)s.


20 Hits of the '80s You Might Not Have Known Are Covers

There were many hit cover versions in the '80s, some of well-known originals, and some that fans may be surprised are covers.


The Reign of Kindo Discuss Why We're Truly "Better Off Together"

The Reign of Kindo's Joseph Secchiaroli delves deep into their latest single and future plans, as well as how COVID-19 has affected not only the band but America as a whole.


Tommy Siegel's Comic 'I Hope This Helps' Pokes at Social Media Addiction

Jukebox the Ghost's Tommy Siegel discusses his "500 Comics in 500 Days" project, which is now a new book, I Hope This Helps.


Kimm Rogers' "Lie" Is an Unapologetically Political Tune (premiere)

San Diego's Kimm Rogers taps into frustration with truth-masking on "Lie". "What I found most frustrating was that no one would utter the word 'lie'."


50 Years Ago B.B. King's 'Indianola Mississippi Seeds' Retooled R&B

B.B. King's passion for bringing the blues to a wider audience is in full flower on the landmark album, Indianola Mississippi Seeds.


Filmmaker Marlon Riggs Knew That Silence = Death

In turning the camera on himself, even in his most vulnerable moments as a sick and dying man, filmmaker and activist Marlon Riggs demonstrated the futility of divorcing the personal from the political. These films are available now on OVID TV.


The Human Animal in Natural Labitat: A Brief Study of the Outcast

The secluded island trope in films such as Cast Away and television shows such as Lost gives culture a chance to examine and explain the human animal in pristine, lab like, habitat conditions. Here is what we discover about Homo sapiens.


Bad Wires Release a Monster of a Debut with 'Politics of Attraction'

Power trio Bad Wires' debut Politics of Attraction is a mix of punk attitude, 1990s New York City noise, and more than a dollop of metal.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.