Sunday, October 19, 2008

Young Frankenstein: The Musical

What you need to know going in to this post: I have so much baggage with regards to the movie Young Frankenstein, it's like my whole trip to the theater was sponsored by Samsonite. I'm going to try like hell to not let my voluminous back story influence my thoughts and opinions of the large-scale musical production of Mel Brook's finest film, but... hey, I'm not perfect, nor have I ever made any claims towards complete objectivity, and let's not forget that I'm drinking while I write this so there's every chance that the liquored-up nostalgia will kick in and I'll short out the keyboard with my wistful tears.

Here's the deal...

-Young Frankenstein, the movie, is one of my favorite movies of all time. Literally, like top ten. I've seen it roughly a kajillion times and, while that's technically a make-believe number, I think you get the point I'm trying to make.

-When I was a senior in high school, our drama department... and this is for real... decided to do Young Frankenstein as our fall production. Meaning, we... or rather, this dude named Alan... sat down and transcribed the entire script of the movie from off an old VHS copy, and then we did it in play form. I played the Gene Wilder part, i.e. I was THE STAR. The show was... and I'm not just saying this because it was the highlight of my pre-college existence... a qualified smash. Everyone loved it, and rightly so, because we as a collective group of actors and techies quite simply worked our asses off. To this day, it remains a very proud moment in a life studded much more frequently with failure and disappointment.

-I always feel that lists like this should come in groups of three, so let's just say, for the sake of symmetry, that Young Frankenstein killed my Dad.

So, as I said... baggage. Like a motherfucker. And given that I'm coming from the lost luggage room at the airport with regards to this show, I don't think anyone would blame me if I thought Young Frankenstein: The Musical sucked ass and was the spark that will eventually burn modern theater to the ground, metaphorically speaking.

However... even though I'd love to be a pouting child about it... I can't say any of those things. Young Frankenstein: The Musical is good. It's not great, mind you... there are some issues that I'll get to in a moment... but, yes, it is in fact good. Better than my high school production? Um, well, I mean they were so different, we didn't have tap numbers for one thing and, like, they have a waaaay bigger budget... and... well... oh, fine, YES, it was better than the one I was in. BIG WHOOP, a North Texas high school got owned by Broadway. What's next, a Ferrari sports car outracing a bag of dead mice? A four-star Chef cooking better than a wad of dried chewing gum? The Sun being warmer than my refrigerator? Puh-leeze.

So... Young Frankenstein: The Musical... what's it like?

NOTE: I'm not going to bother to recap the plot. You've seen the movie, so you basically know what it's about. And if you HAVEN'T seen the movie... dude... what the fuck? The only acceptable excuse is that you come from a super-religious family that thought TV was the Devil's trickster lies and so you're just now catching up with the cinematic world. Otherwise, you're just a masochist.

Okay, for starters, the thing looks like a million bucks. Or, more accurately, like several million bucks. The whole stage is practically fire-hosed with money, at least as far as the production design is concerned. Crazy theater magic all up in your grill with sets flying around and sparks shooting everywhere and all sorts of bonkers special effects that make the tourists go, "wow." And they should go "wow;" the show is wow-worthy. Relentlessly so. Were I coming to New York from, say, Murfreesboro, TN, and I wanted to get just bucketfuls of spectacle for my Broadway dollar, Young Frankenstein: The Musical would definitely be the way to go. It's certainly more pizazz-y than Spring Awakening, however Spring Awakening DOES have boobies in it (and that's an entirely different post altogether).

There's a dark side to the whole spectacle thing, though, and it's this: The show is SO big and SO impressive, a lot of the joy and heart and soul get sort of lost in all the flash and noise.

Let me see if I can explain it another way... Young Frankenstein: The Musical is like math. It's very precise and very figured out, every joke and every song-n'-dance number have been tabulated and configured to produce the maximum amount of required reaction from the members of the audience. It's entertainment value can be proven on a pocket calculator. This, mind you, shouldn't be seen as a slag on the production... it's really just a fact of theatrical nature. Some shows are corporate products and some shows are labors of love. This happens to be the former, and the best possible example of same. It might leave you a little cold inside, sure, but you don't lay down with a robot expecting warm cuddles, if you catch my meaning.

But whatever... there's a lot to like about the show, beyond the heart vs. wallet argument. Roger Bart, as Dr. Frankenstein, and Christopher Fitzgerald, as Igor, are both completely winning in their respective roles. Fitzgerald, in particular, seems to be having a blast and is generally just fun to watch. The cast as a whole is quite game, though I will say that the show we saw... a 2pm matinee... seemed to have the energy dialed down a notch or two from what I imagine is the evening-performance standard. I get it that they have to conserve for the day's second show, but still. It wasn't distracting or anything; I only noticed because I was looking at the show with a critical eye and, of course, because I'm petty like that.

And I guess... look... I'm not doing a super job at conveying to you the fact that, yes, I *did* like Young Frankenstein: The Musical. I enjoyed myself, it was time (if not money, as I got in for free) well spent, and hey... when you get right down to it... seeing a shiny Broadway show of this caliber is just flat-out entertaining. It might not be the most emotionally resonant experience you'll ever have, granted... you're not going to walk out affirmed of your love for the theater and/or strengthened spiritually for weeks to come. But you ARE going to walk out going, "wow." And there's nothing wrong with that at all.


Blogger ML said...

This is kind of what I expected to hear. It's how I felt about Spamalot. They don't particularly do their originals justice, but it's a spectacle worth watching. The original films though - can't beat them. Nothing ever could.

9:43 PM  
Anonymous JustinS said...

What ml said, except that I'd add that, as a fan of the originals, you have to see the stage versions. I saw Spamalot a couple times when it toured out here and enjoyed it very much both showings. I imagine that Young Frankenstein would be the same way.

And the Puttin' on the Ritz scene in the movie is at the top of my list o' funniest bits in movie history. Whenever I need a laugh, I cue that one up.

12:55 PM  
Blogger The Wild World Of Halley said...

I don't know Clint, I was there for our version of Young Frankenstein, and I'm still partial to that version of it. You just can't beat Kit walking around school like that for the week of the production. Besides we weren't paid for our hard work. Therefore we had more heart in that than any broadway production.


3:25 PM  

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