The director has also let her leading man disappear for long stretches. Roger Bart is a born comedian who makes us laugh on sight, but the production keeps shifting focus, leaving him stranded. Mr. Bart has only two or three songs to call his own—a Danny Kaye tongue twister is the less forgettable. Crucially, there’s no central relationship in the show to involve or touch us. Mr. Bart has no partner to play off—no Bialystock to his Bloom. It’s not the Monster (who ought to have his own ballad); nor Inga (Sutton Foster, who has three numbers before fading from view early in the second act); nor even loyal Igor, apart from the early—and charming—vaudevillian duet with Mr. Bart’s Frankenstein, “Together Again.”
Igor—the role made famous by the late great Marty Feldman—is marvelously played by Christopher Fitzgerald. Megan Mullally as the frigid Elizabeth—a role that Mr. Brooks and co-bookwriter Thomas Meehan have mistakenly rewritten as some kind of society dame—can’t erase the memory of Madeline Khan. (Who could?) Andrea Martin is a quiet riot as Frau Blücher, who makes terrified horses rear up whinnying at the mere mention of her name.
MEL BROOKS IS the Norman Mailer of comedy, a pugnacious little guy who comes out swinging. He’s written several enduring classics that changed the landscape; he’s unembarrassed to fail; he fires scattershot; and when he misses the target—boy, does he ever.
Young Frankenstein misses. Let it be said that the audience at the performance I attended seemed to be having a swell time. But for me, pastiche has its limits, and Mr. Brooks is now pastiching himself.
His unrestrained humor has never been subtle, but all the bouncy, generic tunes in the show sound more or less the same. (It’s one of the reasons we’re so happy to have a few minutes of Irving Berlin.) Mr. Brooks did much better with his pastiche score for The Producers, which paid “tribute’’ to many great composers (Kern, Porter and Lorenz Hart among them). He can be crude, it’s no secret, but too many of his songs here—“He Vas My Boyfriend,” “Deep Love”—go on to illustrate and repeat the jokes he’s already made. (And most of the jokes were in the movie: “What knockers!” et al.)
A musical comedy needs an intimate theater (like the St. James, where The Producers played)—not a soulless barn like Young Frankenstein’s home in the Hilton. Everything’s too loud. The cast has to push and oversell the comedy from its vast stage to the balcony a mile away.
Well, Mel Brooks never talked quietly. And Young Frankenstein isn’t so much a musical comedy as an unapologetic vaudevillian song-and-dance show—a series of hit-or-miss low comedy sketches, with a touch of burlesque thrown in: leggy showgirls in white panties and frilly garter belts.
Mel Brooks, the populist, will let The People decide the show’s fate—not miserable, sour critics. The reviews have been tepid, to say the least. But the unsinkable Mr. Brooks will declare, “See if I care!”
He’ll ignore every last flaw in the show, and say, with the faithful Igor, “What hump?”