Mel Brooks’ The Producers was a legendarily successful translation from film to stage, but Young Frankenstein, his classic 1974 horror spoof film of Mary Shelley's gothic tale, proved more problematic on Broadway in 2007. The sprightly 91-year-old Brooks personally oversaw this London revival, along with original director and choreographer Susan Stroman. This lower-budget production in a more intimate space makes the most of a relatively simple set of backdrops by designer Beowulf Boritt, showcasing Brooks’ inventive lyrics and music. The question is, can music hall innuendo survive not just political correctness, but more problematically, the recent outing of sexual exploitation? Laughing out loud through the dazzling – often smutty – lyrics Brooks wrote in his 80s (”Though your genitalia have been known to fail ya”) for me the answer is a giggling yes. And judging from audience laughter from both sexes, I’m not alone.
But it’s not for those likely to be offended by the repeated flash of suspenders adorning the perfect and perfectly-drilled pins of the extraordinarily talented Summer Strallen. With a smile as sunny as her name, she’s also perfectly cast as Inga, the assistant who proves as indispensable in the lab as in the hay-cart.
Casting is perfect overall. Lesley Joseph is superb as redoubtable housekeeper, Frau Blücher, shaking a leg – and chair leg – in 'He Vas My Boyfriend', a fine Brecht/Weill pastiche recalling the prowess of the late Victor Frankenstein. “Victor won the three-legged race…all by himself. It vas love at first sight.” So again, if single entendres featuring the male member offend, avoid! Aficionados of the film will remember that the monster too was impossibly well endowed, here celebrated in song by Frederick Frankenstein’s erstwhile prudish fiancée Elizabeth (terrific Dianne Pilkington) relishing the chance to go overboard: “At last I've found deep love. Now I will keep love forever inside!”
The men are no slackers either. Hadley Fraser’s Frederick Frankenstein takes charge from The Brain, that brilliant opening number rhyming body parts, superb in his precise diction and movement. Ross Noble is revelatory as hunchbacked assistant Igor, somehow channelling fellow Brit, the late, great Marty Feldman, and making the part entirely his own. Fraser and Noble make a marvellous double act, paying tribute to much-loved erstwhile showbiz pairings in 'Together Again', “Like Laurel and Hardy, like Coke and Bacardi”.
The whole show is an affectionate tribute to movie musicals, to vaudeville and music hall – and even to panto. Patrick Clancy’s obliging but blind hermit provides the panto slapstick, causing havoc, trying to offer Nic Greenshields’ ultimately loveable green monster refuge and literally misguided refreshments.
The Transylvanian chorus girls and boys are magnificently panto too, especially in the Act One closer, another perfect pastiche, 'Transylvania Mania': “It's southern fried with a side of grits. It's Gentiles, Jews and Jesuits / It's an étude played by Horowitz / It's Irving Berlin's Puttin' on the Ritz!” That’s a delicious spoiler for the show’s climax, Puttin’ on the Ritz as a ‘monster’ production number. A monstrous, monster hit!
By Judi Herman
Photos by Manuel Harlan
Young Frankenstein runs until Saturday 29 September. 7.30pm (Mon-Sat), 3pm (Wed & Sun only). £25-£121.90. Garrick Theatre, WC2H 0HH. www.garricktheatre.org