Friday, November 9, 2007

Welcome to Transylvani - "Eh" (Reprise)

There's a new square-jawed, man-faced emerald outcast on Broadway. And I'm not talkin' Wicked's latest Elphaba. Mel Brooks is going green this season by recycling his classic 1974 horror spoof, Young Frankenstein, in a new musical incarnation. The show officially comes to life at the Hilton Theatre on November 8th, but I was there this past Wednesday night for the invited dress rehearsal. The audience was a veritable Who's-Who and Who-the-Hell's-That of Broadway celebs. From Bernadette Peters, whose very presence caused a text messaging frenzy among the Gays to rival an American Idol voting night, to Michael Cerveris, Martha Plimpton, Kathy Brier, Christopher Hanke, the casts of The Drowsy Chaperone, The Little Mermaid, and of course, Yours Truly. You could tell everyone's industry status by where they were sitting in the house and by the caliber of stars surrounding them. Many of my fancy friends were down in the Bernadette Peters Orchestra seats. I somehow found myself way up in the Bob Saget Mezzanine. Interesting.

The film version of Young Frankenstein is a comedy classic with a cult following, and its fans will no doubt appreciate its folly on this colossal and lavish scale, full of some spectacular sets and special effects that make it worth at least a third of what they're actually charging to see the thing. (That works out to about forty thousand dollars.) However, some of the shtick made famous by the movie's iconic cast is better served on screen. Those not familiar with the original might have a less enjoyable evening and find the humor utterly corny and camp. And I say that as an utterly corny and camp counselor. I love the stuff, and have always been a fan of Mel's and of Young Frank in particular. But every joke is almost a 10-minute tribute to itself and is encored several times throughout the show, which can get a little crusty and seems only slightly self-indulgent of Mr. Brooks, who from the right angle, can be seen in the wings masturbating to a picture of himself, into his bank book. It's true.

The cast is stellar, and we're lucky simply to have them on stage and in our lives. However, they're not utilized to maximum potential, and this hearty feast of some of Broadway's finest had my stomach growling a bit by the time I got home. Sutton Foster plays Inga, the buxom assistant with legs for days and brains for a minute. She is adorable, as per her usual, but this is the first time I've ever seen her do anything that didn't knock my wig off, (including the time I saw her shopping at The Food Emporium). Her first number, "Roll in the Hay", is visually something to see. But Brooks' score is unsurprisingly bland and predictable. (Many of the songs sound like variations on "Hava Nagila".) And so she is never really given the opportunity to soar like we're accustomed to. Now, I'm not sure which came first...the Sutton or the egg. Which is to say, I don't know if this part was written with her in mind. Either way, when you're working with pipes like Sutton Foster's, you have an obligation to build a goddamn gorgeous, show-stopping toilet that flushes in a high G belt. I am her #1 fan, (perhaps number two). But frankly, her performance left me constipated.

Megan Mullally is hilarious as Dr. Frankenstein's untouchable fiance, Elizabeth. She certainly gives the character her own spin, and sprinkles just enough Karen Walker into her recipe to keep the homos on her side no matter what she does. But again, her material only fanned my flames. I was hoping to be hosed down and put out. I also would have enjoyed better use of the joined forces between Mullally and Foster, possibly in a duet. Their interaction is limited, which seems like a tragically missed opportunity. Roger Bart does a loverly job as Dr. Fredrick Frankenstein, as does his monster, played by Shuler Hensley. Both respectfully pay homage to their predecessors, Gene Wilder and Peter Boyle throughout. Christopher Fitzgerald is spot-on as EYE-gor with an "EYE" (not EE-gor with an "EE"), Fredrick's bi-humptual sidekick. But Andrea Martin seems to be the audience favorite as Frau Blucher (cue the horses), the mysterious, bite-sized housekeeper with a thing for mad scientists.

Susan Stroman, who also directed The Producers, returns to work her Stro-jo on Transylvania. Some of her choices are questionable, including the chorus line of green-masked dancing Frankenstein monsters in the "Puttin' on the Ritz" number, which gives it the feel of a movie musical parody on The Simpsons, and adds an extra, unnecessary layer of spoof to the spoof.

The show will most likely be a commercial success, and I'm thrilled I got the chance to see it. If you happen to trip over a ticket, I whole-heartedly encourage you to pick it up. But the moral of my story is this: If you pay 450 dollars to see Young Frankenstein...(excuse me..Frahnken-shteen), then you must be Fahken-shtoned. I had fun, alright, but needed-wanted-wished for more. I laughed out loud only a few times, and between you, me and Bob Saget, I faked it.

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