Comedy legend Mel brooks struck Broadway gold when he adapted his cult film The Producers into a musical for the stage. It ran for over 2,000 performances in New York and won a then record-breaking 12 Tony Awards. A successful production in London followed and things came full circle when in 2005 the stage show spawned a film of its own.
It was always going to be a tough act to follow and when the same creative team — Brooks with co-writer Thomas Meehan and director/choreographer Susan Stroman — turned their attention to Young Frankenstein, Brook’s cult homage to Universal’s horror films, the resulting show was met with mixed reviews and little success at the box office.
Now, with a few tweaks by Brooks and still with Stroman directing, Young Frankenstein arrives in London in a full-on, flat-out hilarious romp with a cast at the top of its game who just revel in playing everything larger than life — just the way Brook’s brand of comedy demands.
If you’ve seen the movie, all the gags are present and correct, now seamlessly bolstered by Brook’s score that is full of clever, witty lyrics and firmly rooted in the vaudeville tradition so close to the composer’s heart.
Hadley Fraser is every inch the square-jawed leading man as Frederick Frankenstein, the top brain specialist who inherits the Transylvania castle of his late grandfather and is at first reluctantly drawn into continuing the mad prof’s experiments in re-animating dead tissue. Fraser also displaying a deft comedic touch as it all becomes more and more deliciously absurd.
There are delightful, game and radiant turns from Summer Strallen and Diana Pilkington as the women in Frankenstein’s life: Inga the sexy lab assistant and Elizabeth his self-centered fiancé respectively.
Shuler Hensley reprising his role from Broadway invests the monster with some depth and there’s an hilarious cameo from Patrick Clansey as the blind hermit in a sequence that perfectly encapsulates Brook’s brand of humour.
But the standouts in an amazing cast are Lesley Joseph as the castle housekeeper Frau Blucher and comedian Ross Noble as Igor who all but steal the show from under the noses of their co-stars. Joseph’s turn on the hilarious number He Was By Boyfriend pretty much bringing the house down on the night I went.
If you didn’t know before, Brooks thankfully doesn’t do subtle. Some of the jokes are telegraphed, but none the worse for it, and the double entendres are seaside postcard level.
If you’re looking for nuance you should walk on by, but if you want a bawdy, uproarious belly laugh that’s done out of pure love for the genres that it parodys, this is a show that delivers in spades.
Young Frankenstein is now running at the Garrick Theatre
Photograph by Manuel Harlan