The first thing everyone’s going to do is compare Young Frankenstein to The Producers. That’s an easy thing to do since The Producers was such an amazing theater experience that is hard to top when it comes to big musical numbers, great comedy, and amazing performances.
Mel Brooks is a comedy master, creating worlds that are both full of great laughs and great characters. And the addition of memorable songs in his musical adaptation of The Producers only adds to the fun. So how does he fare with his adaptation of the 1974 film, Young Frankenstein?
Young Frankenstein is a fun-filled, entertaining musical experience that celebrates its own ridiculousness with immense glee. With Vaudevillian gags and jokes, lavish musical numbers, and dazzling special effects, the musical is worth every penny to see up close and personal. It’s just fantastic.
This particular show I saw at the Pantages in Hollywood, which featured many from the Broadway cast including Roger Bart as Fredrick Von Frankenstein. He captures the essence of Gene Wilder’s role in the 1974 film while adding his own spin to the character.
One of the main issues with the musical is the popularity of the source material. Most people had never seen the original film version of The Producers (1968) with Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder. This is not the case with Young Frankenstein.
Almost everyone who loves Mel Brooks, spoofs, or comedy has seen, heard of, or can quote the film version of Young Frankenstein. It goes back and forth in an ongoing battle with Blazing Saddles (also 1974) as Brooks’ best film. With such notoriety and recognition it’s hard to please everyone with a stage adaptation of a masterpiece of classic comedy.
But much like Hairspray, Shrek, and other recent film-to-stage adaptations, one has to take a step back and realize that this is a different medium. Yes, many may feel that this is a cheap imitation of a great work of comic cinema, but just knowing that Brooks was behind this new version does help ease the minds of those who are unsure of what will happen.
If you’ve never seen the movie – and a few folks around me hadn’t, which was odd – it still holds its own. Much like The Producers, not knowing the source material will probably help you form an opinion that isn’t filled with comparisons to the original work.
Brooks and company did an excellent job. The musical has some amazing moments of spectacle and inspired musical numbers that are stunning to watch. I was thoroughly entertained and would see it again. It also made me want to watch the movie again!
If you’ve seen the movie you know what the big musical number will be: “Puttin’ on the Ritz.” Much like “Springtime for Hitler” in The Producers, Brooks and director/choreographer Susan Stroman don’t disappoint. It was a standing ovation moment by the end as were a few of the other great numbers.
So, do I think that Blazing Saddles should be the next adaptation by Mr. Brooks? No. I believe that Blazing Saddles is too sacred a cow in the pantheon of comedy to be adapted, changed, and turned into a musical.
Even though “The Ballad of Rock Ridge” would be fun to see as a big over-the-top dance number, I think that Blazing Saddles should remain a film only and not become a musical. It’s a movie that could never be made in today’s overly PC world, so why take it to the stage?
Young Frankenstein is a treat. For escapist fun at the theater, check it out and have a great time! Even if you hate theater, you’ll definitely enjoy this show. Well done, Mel Brooks!