Sunday, 15 October 2017

Review Young Frankenstein

Young Frankenstein
Book by Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan
Music and Lyrics by Mel Brooks
Based On The Story And Screenplay by Gene Wilder and Mel Brooks

Mel's Show Of Shows (Again 😉)

Young Frankenstein is an odd re-animated creature. Mel Brooks, of course, comes with a guaranteed store of goodwill from his  fans.  So  a lot of the audience will come to Young Frankenstein determined to enjoy it.

Professor Frederick Frankenstein - Les Miserables' veteran Hadley Fraser - is quizzed on his grandfather's experiments by his keen research students.

After singing a eulogy to the organ in the body that he loves best - Yes, "You can bet your ass on the brain!", - and a fond farewell to his fiancée (a splendid Dianne Pilkington), he arrives at his family's Transylvanian family seat.

There he's greeted by Igor - comedian Ross Noble in a career-making performance. He's a family retainer who sounds like a non-bitter remnant of the ups and downs of would-be moguls of old Hollywood, "My grandfather worked for your grandfather!".

And of course there's leggy and busty blonde Inga (yes, Summer Strallen, a Brooksian Swedish blonde who's a Transylvanian lab assistant!). She introduces the American professor to a cleverly animated roll in the hay and the animation of high kicks.

Add to this musical theatre test tube concoction the stern housekeeper (Lesley Joseph) who announces with Beethoven 5th-Symphony-like- bravado "He Vas My Boyfriend!". Oh and of course Grandpa Victor's "How To" book on brain transfer and raising the dead for Frederick to follow and you have a rollicking tale.

It all proceeds wih the precise timing of an 1970s' adult nostalgia-fest pantomine, ideal for the forthcoming Happy Holiday season.  All over the world, judging from this Spanish language Mel Brooks' episode of The Simpsons!

Offensive? More out of context  - compared with the already retro black and white movie, that is.

In 1974, there were still folks alive who knew people who made the original movie and the movie manages to be both a parody and an appreciation of its creators' filmmaking skill.

If  you're under 40 and not an aspiring comedy writer or film student who has swotted up on Mel Brooks, here's the trailer of the movie.

As it is, it's an enjoyable, well-choreographed stage show with the broadbrush highlights of the movie kept, but it does become rather a different creature.

Once one could have chuckled and said how non-PC it all was, even though that already felt retro some years ago.  Now with the son of Woody Allen and Mia Farrow breaking the latest (very serious and, for want of a better word, incestuous) movieland scandal,  it feels like a tough time for bawdy humour and satire. 
Young Frankenstein the musical is slick and laugh-inducing with the involuntary reflex reactions to tried and trusted vaudeville and sketch humour honed on Sid Caesar's TV shows.

TLT still kicks herself for guffawing, for there's something mildly re-heated about it all. But the timing, verbal and physical, is impeccable, as befits the work of a seasoned writer, as well as pianist and drummer - Brooks was taught by Buddy Rich before he turned stand up comedian, gag and sketch writer.

It all slots satisfyingly into place There's the direction and dance routines of Susan Stroman. There's the cartoony design from Beowulf Borritt (he of Microsoft advertisement fame in case you don't believe anyone with a name like that can exist!). Excellent sound design from Gareth Owen and musical director Andrew Hilton leading the nine-piece band make the kitsch songs easy-listening.

There's even a shameless emotional manipulation of our emotions making us feel sorry for Shuler Hensler's monster never quite getting to grips with his Stein - oh, sorry, beer tankard - and  remaining thirsty while others drink. But finally the monster is transformed into a Broadway star ...     

In some ways it's as if Mel Brooks, aged 91, is being buried alive very, very comfortably,  with his stone (that's Stein in German) tombstone reading, "He was (is) a genius!" 

The thing is, he is. A genius, that is. In that he represents the spirit of a time - the Catskills comedians thrust into the brave new (or at times cowardly and cowering) world of  television in the 1950s and 1960s with something of the involuntarily television salaciousness whirling around us now and it's an amber/green light.

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