When Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein was unleashed in 1974, the world didn’t know what to expect. The iconic director had already established himself as a master of comedy, irreverence, and unpredictability. The film was released to much success and rave reviews and remains a favorite across generations to this day. Decades after the release of the film, it has been transformed into an equally entertaining musical, and can currently be caught in all its glory at the Garrick Theatre in London’s West End.
The live performance follows the same story as the original film, with a few pleasant surprises that will please long-time fans and newcomers alike. The feeling, however, is slightly different and Brooks brings a vaudevillian aspect to Young Frankenstein on the stage. The extravagant dance numbers and sometimes over-the-top songs combine to make for a hilarious and entertaining performance throughout the night. Where other directors may go overboard in this regard, Susan Stroman and Brooks know exactly when to push the limits and when to pull back to the keep the show fresh and fun.
Considering the outstanding performances from the cast of the film, it must be a grueling task to find actors that can help successfully bring it to life on stage. Fortunately, Brooks and the crew did a fantastic job here. It’s no picnic filling Gene Wilder’s shoes, but Hadley Fraser does an admirable job of portraying Dr. Frederick Frankenstein, pulling cues from Wilder’s original but truly making the role his own. Cory English plays his trusty sidekick Igor, offering up plenty of laughs throughout the production. Lesley Joseph brings to the stage an excellent version of Frau Blucher, and Diane Pilkington is equally as entertaining as Inga.
The backing characters are nothing to sneeze at either, with every cast member contributing greatly. The dialogues are natural, the movements fluent, and the laughs consistent. Brooks’ writing skills have never been doubted, and the fluidity of Young Frankenstein is a testament to that. If every comedic musical adaptation could be written by Brooks, we may never see a bad review.
The directorial ability of Susan Stroman plays a major part in the success of this production, as scene changes, character interactions, and casting all come together to provide hours of laughs. Stroman acted as the head choreographer, making her contribution even more impressive. The dance numbers are a throwback to the Vaudeville era but manage to bring a modern twist that keeps the audience engaged. The dance scenes aren’t just funny, they are downright impressive.
Young Frankenstein is a classic comedic masterpiece that works both on film and as a live performance. While there are some obvious differences in the atmosphere and feeling of the stage production, it manages to stay true to the original while giving it a breath of fresh air. Between Brooks, Stroman, and an all-star cast and crew, this is a top-notch show that will please both old and new fans of the movie with its hilarity and wit.
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