Based on one of the most hilarious movies ever made, created by Mel Brooks, the world's funniest man, and boasting an all-star cast of Roger Bart, Megan Mullally, Sutton Foster, Shuler Hensley, Christopher Fitzgerald, and Andrea Martin, not to mention choreography by Susan Stroman, it should virtually scream, "hit, hit, hit."
But if "YF" screams anything, it's shtick! Brooks pulls out every old bit, dusts it off, and puts it out there for new generations. Lines like, "walk this way" reprise Groucho and his cigar, and one wonders where Brooks would be without the Marx Brothers or Sid Caesar.
The special effects in the Transylvania lab, however, are impressive, complete with all the bells and whistles one could not have achieved in the movie version, and they add flair to the production. But even the "Transylvania Mania" and Stroman's choreography seem more like the "Transylvanian Two-Step," and we feel like we've seen this all before. In fact, the only thing missing here is a rubber chicken.
In 1969, Brooks' comic masterpiece, "The Producers," quietly came into movie houses, and though it wasn't a box office hit, it won an Oscar for Best Writing, Screenplay and Story. It was absurd to the point of insanity, and despite its limited run, was treasured by all who saw it. So when Brooks announced he was adapting the film for the stage, advance tickets sales went into the multi-millions, even before the first preview, and the first few months of the show were completely sold out. The show lived up to the pre-opening hype by garnering 12 Tonys, more than any other Broadway show ever. Perhaps Brooks thought he could do the same with "YF," which was an unqualified hit, but it lacks the same spark. That doesn't mean, however, that you won't laugh. You will as you wait for what you know is coming -- the horses neighing every time they hear Frau Blucher's name; Elizabeth singing "Ah sweet mystery of life" when she experiences the Monster's magnificent equipment; Dr. Frankenstein screaming "It's Franken-STEEN!"
One especially clever bit is the ride on the hay wagon, and the lyrics are stock Brooks-ian humor: only this master could fit "medulla oblongata" into a refrain. Based on this, "YF" should elicit guffaws, but the best you'll get out is a chuckle. Only one routine never gets stale: the Monster's soft shoe dance with Dr. Frankenstein while singing "Puttin' on the Ritz." Roger Bart is a worthy successor to Gene Wilder who originated the role in the film, and, as usual, Shuler Hensley, as the Monster, shows again the range of his prodigious talent.
Hensley, in fact, makes the show. He was heartbreaking in the role of Jud in the revival of "Oklahoma!," for which he won a Tony, and poignant in "Tarzan"; in "YF," he's endearing. Andrea Martin is also well cast and adds her comedic talents as Frau Blucher. Sadly disappointing, though, is Megan Mullally who relies on old gestures and bad habits, adding nothing new to this role.
That's about it, which probably explains why Brooks, one of the show's producers, refuses to release the attendance and weekly gross numbers as other shows do.
Mostly "YF" gets your attention because of fireworks, explosions and gimmicks. But it won't set off any fireworks in your brain. It is, however, an entertaining evening, so if you're a Mel Brooks groupie, go see it. Next year, look for a remake of "Blazing Saddles" and have your "whoopee cushion" ready.
Barbara Mehlman & Geri Manus
"No, it is not nearly as good as ï¿½The Producers,ï¿½ Mr. Brooksï¿½s previous Broadway musical. No, it is not as much fun as the 1974 Mel Brooks movie, also called ï¿½Young Frankenstein,ï¿½ on which it is based.... Ms. Stroman seems to take the show one joke at a time: land this gag, milk it for as long as possible and then mark time with some standard-issue ensemble dancing until you move on to the next ....From its opening number, ï¿½Young Frankensteinï¿½ has never stopped screeching at you. This means that: (a) it has soon worn out its voice, and (b) it leaves you with a monster-size headache. "
New York Times
"Make no mistake: The show is big and entertaining. But it never matches the delirious thrills of "The Producers,... Many of Brooks' songs disappoint, though. They lack the snap and wit he's shown before and do nothing to move the story along... isn't the joyous celebration one hoped for (or one worth premiere prices)."
New York Daily News
"Despite music that's more ho-hum than hummable, Brooks's lyrics are bright and witty. ..Better yet, the book - maintaining virtually all of those iconic quotable quotes - does a great job, with the assistance of co-writer Thomas Meehan, in transferring the original script to the stage. An even greater job is done by Stroman whose staging, choreography and supervising of special effects manage to suggest the Broadway musical at its dizziest, glitziest and funniest. In her entire career, Stroman has done nothing better - she even outproduces her work on "The Producers."
New York Post
"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...Alas, something's wrong in Transylvania when the only thing in stitches is the creature's face." "
"Wondering whether "Young Frankenstein".... is worth all that dough. Nope. Not a great musical, nor even a particularly good one, "Young Frankenstein" is a reasonably funny event and several performers are mighty fine. Don't stampede to see it. Those titanic ticket prices will soon sink ...The loudly orchestrated score, however, is a disappointing batch of obvious lyrics and melodies echoing 1950s show tunes. "...A so-so show neither bad nor good."
"It's alive ï¿½ but just barely. If there's fun to be found in Young Frankenstein (* * ï¿½ out of four), Mel Brooks' latest movie-to-Broadway-musical transformation, it's all the result of the giddy, goodwill-laden charms of the original. What worked on film works, for the most part, on stage. It's when the show gets inventive, expansive and, well, musical that it gets into trouble."
"Bloated, robotic, astonishingly unfunny behemoth has been cobbled together from spare parts: Brooks and Gene Wilderï¿½s 1974 comedy classic, plus tired metashowbiz winks, lame new gags and joke tunes, and millions of dollarsï¿½ worth of spectacle. Add some fake electricity (courtesy of director-choreographer Susan Stroman), and you have a monster that can barely walk, much less dance its way into our hearts. In other words: Itï¿½s not alive! Not alive!...the shapeless material offers no base on which to build a show of any resonanceï¿½comical or emotional." David Cote
Time out New York
"Shrill, misbegotten, deeply cynical enterprise....So let's summarize: a character actor stuck in a lead role, a leading actress stuck in a comic role, a handful of underused scene stealers straining to leave their marks, a glut of extraneous and uninventive dance numbers, old jokes that were funnier in the movie, new jokes that wouldn't have warranted a polite grin at a 1964 Friars roast, an uninspired pastiche score, and even worse lyrics."
New York Sun
"You may well guess what kind of men, machinery and monster take over the madcap plot, which treats menace, like everything else, as jest. And pretty funny it is, what with Brooks and co- librettist Thomas Meehan's antic as well as antique humor, resuscitating the film's old gags and adding condign new ones.... All of the performances are praiseworthy...The dizzily burlesque goings-on and devilishly acrobatic dances -- most famously the ``Puttin' on the Ritz'' number that serves as the Monster's debutante ball -- are the inspired work of director and choreographer Susan Stroman."
"Scattered, fitfully entertaining show....You can't help having some fun at "Young Frankenstein," especially when you have a parade of expert comedians and musical-theater performers such as Roger Bart, Megan Mullally and Andrea Martin around to strut their stuff. They work hard, sometimes too hard. Comedy, heaven knows, is difficult, but it should look easy. Here, the effort sometimes gets in the way of the laughs....not exactly the requisite delirium the best musical comedy can provide"
"Everybody's working terribly hard for every single giggle... Laboring hardest is the unquestionably appealing Roger Bart, who leads the pack of actors, in the title role of Frederick Frankenstein....It's amazing that Bart has any voice left at the end of a week of performances, since he screams most of his lines in director Susan Stroman's overheated production, which unfortunately is geared to the size of the house. This is in spite of one of the worst-sounding, tinniest amplification systems I have heard in more than 30 years of reviewing Broadway shows."
Jacques Le Sourd
"A highly entertaining musical-comedy spectacular featuring endless doses of Brooks' classic vaudeville-style humor, terrific performances from an ensemble who have more than a little to live up to and typically expert staging by Susan Stroman. If the show doesn't live up to the level of its predecessor (The Producers) -- nor, for that matter, to the comedic brilliance of its film inspiration -- it still registers as a hilarious crowd-pleaser." Frank Scheck
""Young Frankenstein" has no shortage of chuckles, a stellar cast and generous production values (full appreciation of which can be found in Variety's Seattle review of Aug. 24). But it's a far more mechanical creation, with little of the heart or liberating belly laughs of its predecessor. (The Producers)...Not helped by an assaultive but unclear sound mix, the cast works hard but gets a little lost onstage, and many of the jokes along with them....if musical-makers are going to continue to mine movies as source material for anything beyond theme-park jollies, reinvention, not just reproduction, has to figure in the formula. "