Reviewed – 11th October 2017
“The multi-talented Fraser imbues the character with just the right amount of dizziness and spice”
“I know what critics will say when Young Frankenstein opens in London” Mel Brooks said in a recent interview. “They’ll say – well, it’s good. But it’s not as great as The Producers was…” The reviews were mixed when it first ran on Broadway a decade ago, but one gets the feeling that Brooks doesn’t really give a damn. Yes, he has reworked and trimmed some of it since then, though this is probably more with an eye on the London audience and its sensibilities, rather than for the press. Bringing his musical adaptation of his cult film to the London stage looks set to be another triumph, not just theatrically, but also as another example of proving his detractors wrong. His career has flourished on the basis of ignoring all advice.
Some will say this show is outdated. But that’s the whole point. The original film was released in 1974 and was a spoof of the 1930s horror movies. To give it a contemporary feel would merely strip it of much of its character. Its charm lies in its bawdy double-entendres, and it is up to the audience to realise that the jokes are intended to fly in the face of all modern “…isms”.
The cast are clearly having the time of their life. Hadley Fraser excels as Frederick Frankenstein, Victor’s grandson – a New York Dean of Anatomy initially trying to disassociate himself from his heritage, until he learns he has inherited his grandfather’s castle in Transylvania. The multi-talented Fraser (wisely choosing to make the role his own instead of emulating Gene Wilder’s original) imbues the character with just the right amount of dizziness and spice. He relishes the opportunity to travel to Transylvania, not at all distressed at having to leave behind his prim fiancée Elizabeth, played by the sublimely voiced Diane Pilkington who has the wonderful task of belting out two of the show’s finer numbers Please Don’t Touch me and Deep Love. On his way Frederick meets his lust interest, the red-hot Inga (Summer Strallen, clearly in her element here), the loyal, hunchback servant Igor – Ross Noble in a commanding acting debut – and finally Lesley Joseph’s mysterious Frau Bülcher.
Mel Brooks, who also penned the music and the lyrics, is clearly a master of rhyme and his tongue-twisting verses are a pure joy; peppered with innuendo and gags. The highlight of the show, though, is Irving Berlin’s Puttin’ On The Ritz where Frederick and the Monster (the heart winning Shuler Hensley) recreate the absurdly hilarious scene from the film.
It is difficult not to see this as a labour of love for Brooks – a union between the two things he loves the most: film and musical theatre. Yet he effortlessly avoids the trap of self-indulgence, for it is abundantly clear that everyone will love his show. By his own admission, it is possible for the magic and glory of a musical to equal the power of the film. The insanely talented troupe of actors realise this ambition for him. Yes, the jokes are old, but the energy fizzes like lightning and this show is a much needed electric shock to the West End. A musical that cannot fail to put a smile on even the most hardened poker face.
Reviewed by Jonathan Evans
Photography by Manuel Harlan
is at The Garrick Theatre until 10th February 2018