The latest musical adaptation of Mel Brooks’ wonderful Young Frankenstein will debut in London’s West End later this month. Before hand, the great man chose Newcastle-Upon-Tyne’s majestic old Theatre Royal to host a special 2 week taster run to try out his new show on an audience. With a great opportunity for an advance look at the show literally in my back yard, I went along to see if this musical version could capture the brilliance of one of my favourite films.
I have been a film fan for most of my life, there are moments that I can point to that helped form my love of this medium. One that really stands out was the first time my big cousin Joe showed me Young Frankenstein (Mel Brooks, 1974). It was one of the first films that I actually remember laughing uncontrollably at. Brooks has had a long and successful career but for me, Young Frankenstein (or maybe Blazing Saddles….. no Young Frankenstein) was the high light. Fast forward a good 25 years and I would meet the love of my life and woman I would married. We had so much in common, including as it happened a love of Mel Brooks.
We could hardly believe our luck when we heard that he was bring the updated version of his 2007 Broadway musical to our town for an exclusive run and as if things couldn’t get any better, local hero and comic genius Ross Noble was cast as Igor. Babysitter booked. Tickets bought.
Gifted medical lecturer Frederick Frankenstein (pronounced Frunk-une-steen) is struggling to escape the legacy of his infamous grandfather. He is doing his best to distance himself by becoming respected in his field and is engaged to an up tight socialite. When his grandfather passes away he heads to Transylvania to tie up his estate. Once there he meets Igor (eye-gor) the grandson of his grandfather’s assistant. He is convinced by Igor to continue his grandfather’s work. A beautiful lab assistant, some angry villagers, a mysterious house keeper and a abnormal brain all conspire to complicate matters with hilarious results.
First thing’s first, does this stand up to the film. 100% yes. It follows the plot pretty closely, hitting all the right comic beats and brings to life all the classic moments, in particular The Monsters’ encounter with the blind man and Igor stealing the brain.
The show works and it is apparent that Brooks has been heavily involved in its production. The cast are brilliant, led by Hadley Fraser as Frederick. Yes, he puts on the generic Brit putting on a musical american accent but he holds the production together nicely. He is ably supported by Ross Noble as Igor. It is always going to be tough to play this role made so famous by the legned that is Marty Feldman, but Noble infuses Igor with an infectious energy no doubt helped by the fact he was playing to his home crowd, he got a massive reception every time he came on stage, in particular an ad-libbed joke about Lawernce Llewelyn-Bowen when there was an unscheduled hick up with one of the sets (a testament to the brilliance of live theatre). As great as Noble and Fraser are, the show is stolen by Lesley Joseph as Frau Blucher (neeeeeigh). She is brilliant and moves around the stage with an energy that defies her 71 years. Shuler Hensley reprises his role as the monster from the original 2007 Broadway production, returning too is original director and choreographer Susan Stroman (she also directed the 2005 big screen version of The Producers for Brooks) and she oversees a very energetic production full of lively dance numbers and some explosive pryo technics.
As impressive as the sets were, as great as the cast are and as laugh out loud funny as it most definitely is, this is a musical and as such will rise and fall on its musical numbers. I am happy to say that there are some belters in there.
Starting things off, we meet Frederick with the hilarious The Brain, this sets the tone for the fast pace of the show. After the hilarious Please Don’t Touch Me, we are greeted with the best song in the show as Frederick meets Igor with the rousing Together Again, where the chemistry between Noble and Fraser is obvious. After the innuendo filled Hay Ride, the next classic tune arrives in the form of He Vas My Boyfriend by Lesley Joseph’s Frau Blucher (neeeeigh). The highlights of the second act are undoubtedly the hilarious rude Deep Love and the brilliant version of Puttin On The Ritz.
The rest of the songs are fine and if I have a small criticism, the romantic beats inevitably slowing the action down some what, but there really is enough innuendo and the odd blue moment to keep things moving along.
My wife and I went into this as a fans of both musical theatre and Mel Brooks’ brilliant film and I came out 100% happy with what I had watched. It was a real treat this that Brooks chose Newcastle to host this run. He did attend a few of the performances across the two weeks, but sadly our night was not one of them, however my wife did sit next to Ben Crompton who plays Eddison Tollet from The Night’s Watch on Game of Thrones, so that was something.
All in all a great night out, a wonderful show, with some great preformances, some cracking songs and some truly hilarious moments. A triumph.
Thanks for reading. Hope you folks enjoyed yourselves, catch ya later on down the trail.