It seems all movies make their way to the stage in the end. Young Frankenstein is a welcome addition, as would be much of Mel Brooks’ catalogue, familiar as his films are with raucous laughter and ridiculous songs.
This musical parody follows the story of Frederick Frankenstein, sceptical descendent of Mary Shelley’s Victor, who visits Transylvania to settle his late grandfather’s estate. While there, he picks up where his grandfather left off to create his very own Creature.
It’s almost too faithful to the original film, not adding much of its own flair. However it works as a stage show and the nostalgia wins out in the end, to the point where the audience are laughing seconds before the best lines. There are moments from the film that really needed changing: a rape that becomes consensual is a backwards idea that could have been updated, instead of copying the film outright.
It is a star-studded cast, and of course Ross Noble’s Igor won the audience’s hearts the moment he stepped – or should we say, skulked – onstage. He added his own flair to the most famous lines (giving the audience some extra giggles during the “walk this way” moment) and, although the role will always belong to Marty Feldman, he is a worthy actor to play the part – though his cockney accent is a little overkill.
Noble is upstaged in the comedy stakes in Act II, when the Creature visits the blind man in the woods. This is another scene taken almost word for word from the film, but it translates to the stage beautifully.
Another such scene is the ‘It’s aliiiive’ moment, where such simple things as flashes of light and thunderous sound effects add the atmosphere that you can only achieve in a theatre. Speaking of theatres, how wonderful to see Frankenstein’s monster tap-tapping away to Putting on the Ritz! Birds of a Feather’s Lesley Joseph introduces this part of the show to great laughs, though I will only ever see her as Dorian. (Her rendition of He Voz My Boyfriend is hilarious, but she can’t really sing.)
Thankfully Hadley Fraser’s Frederick was very different to Gene Wilder’s. His first line, ‘My name is Fron-ken-steen’ is Wilder-esque in its barely concealed rage but throughout the rest of the show Fraser makes the role entirely his own. He launches into There is Nothing Like a Brain with pizazz and vaudeville enthusiasm, very different from Wilder’s soft-spoken gentle dialogue.
All in all it’s a fun show – it’s a parody not only of B-movies but also of old-school musicals, with upbeat dance routines and an opening song in homage to There is Nothing Like a Dame. The scattered standing ovation was a bit of an overreaction – this show is good fun but will never be more than that. We are not invested in the characters and it is too slapstick and cartoony for it to compete against the longer-running greats of the West End. However, it’s exactly the sort of thing that should go on tour, but maybe don’t take the kids.
Young Frankenstein‘s run at the Garrick Theatre, London, has been extended to September 2018.