Douglas Mayo reviews Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein at the Garrick Theatre and discovers that Mel Brooks has created another monster hit.
Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein
11 October 2017
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It’s taken ten years for Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein to make the journey from Broadway to the West End but it has certainly been worth the wait. Based on Brooks’ 1974 black and white homage to cult horror films, Young Frankenstein is a zany, fun-filled, musical entertainment that will keep you laughing from start to finish.
Susan Stroman directs and choreographs this loving parody. The show has been paired down and tightened up since its Broadway debut, now running at two and a half hours including interval. It’s a production that bristles with Stroman’s signature Broadway pizazz and fits beautifully into the Garrick Theatre giving the comedy a much needed intimacy.
Leading the cast of Young Frankenstein is Hadley Fraser as Frederick Frankenstein. Hadley attacks the role with vigour. His opening number The Brain, full of mind-bending lyrical gymnastics sets the stage for this fabulous performance.
It’s great to see Lesley Joseph back on stage as Frau Blucher. Her showstopping turn in He Vas My Boyfriend is a masterclass in comedy and her ‘less is more’ approach to comedy cements her place in the British comedy firmament. A joy to behold.
It’s not often that comedians manage to transition from stand up to musical theatre but Ross Noble surprises and pulls off the role of Igor with aplomb. Fully inhabiting the character his performance is a revelation and had me in stitches throughout.
No musical in the West End would be complete without a Strallen and Summer Strallen’s glorious Inga is something to behold. Her first scene Roll In The Hay had everyone crying with laughter. Her physical comedy skills playing against Fraser and Nobel showed her comedy chops.
Dianne Pilkington as Frankenstein’s prissy but loud fiance Elizabeth Benning is a delight. Her fabulous act one number Please, Don’t Touch Me had me wanting more and her fabulous Act Two scene with the monster was comedy gold.
Patrick Clancy’s turn as Inspector Kemp was only topped by his incredible Act Two appearance as the Hermit. This fabulous Act Two moment had everyone in stitches. Heaven only knows how Clancy manages to keep a straight face throughout.
Perhaps, the performance of the night though goes to Schuler Hensley’s Monster. I last saw Hensley in Trevor Nunn and Susan Stroman’s ground-breaking restaging of Oklahoma! at the National Theatre. Once again, he manages to employ incredible subtlety to bring Brooks’ monster to life. A stunning performance!
Stroman’s production takes a vaudeville comic stand keeping most of the action flowing on Beowulf Boritt’s set comprised of gorgeous painted cloths and utilising some wonderful protechnics that really brought the action into the auditorium. The small ensemble work incredibly hard to create the multitude of extra characters each with their own quirks and comic moments.
Perhaps the highest praise technically on the night must go to Gareth Owen, the production’s sound designer. This show boasts without doubt the best theatre sound I’ve ever heard. Every line of Brooks’ fabulous comic libretto is heard clearly and Andrew Hilton’s fabulous band come across dynamically never over-powering the cast at any time. A fabulous achievement that deserves high praise.
This is very much a super condensed Mel Brooks’ theatre experience and it works all the more for it. His obvious affection for Broadway permeates throughout just as it did with The Producers. The audience is never given a moment to relax as his characters and his fabulous score roll out over the audience invoking roars of laughter. It’s good, old-fashioned light entertainment with a capital E.
Young Frankenstein is a monster hit. It deserves a long West End run. I for one will be visiting Transylvania again to see this feel-good show!