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Young Frankenstein

Mel Brooks' musical adaptation of his 1974 film is a Transylvanian barrel of fun. logo
Shuler Hensley, Sutton Foster, Roger Bart,
Christopher Fitzgerald, and Andrea Martin
in Young Frankenstein
(© Paul Kolnik)
An extravagantly silly number called "Roll in the Hay" spills sexual innuendo all over the Hilton Theatre stage just about 20 minutes into Mel Brooks' Young Frankenstein, the musical adaptation of the 1974 laff-riot flick he co-wrote with Gene Wilder. The sequence -- dumb in the dumb-like-a-fox manner typical of Brooks' best work -- is one of a series of entertaining sequences that make this follow-up to The Producers a Transylvanian barrel of fun, even if it falls short of the vaunted level reached by its uproarious predecessor.

In the break-out routine, Roger Bart as earnest scientist Frederick Frankenstein, Sutton Foster as self-appointed sexy assistant Inga, and Christopher Fitzgerald as hump-backed assistant Igor sit atop a bouncing cart and let go with a ditty in which the cheerful invitation to "roll, roll, roll in the hay" is repeated and then yodeled. Behind the cavorting trio, projections that are an effective element of Robin Wagner's elaborate set give the impression that a forest of barren trees is whizzing by. Peter Kaczorowski's lighting adds to the cheerful gloom.

A good deal of the credit also goes to director-choreographer Susan Stroman, who works her magic just as she did with The Producers. Not the least of her many bright inventions is an 11 o'clock number she joyfully builds around Irving Berlin's interpolated standard, "Putting on the Ritz," where she shows off the tamed monster (a comically braying Shuler Hensley) and an accompanying chorus in top hat, tails, and platform boots. Although that extended turn is the tuner's pinnacle -- and puts the amusing but slighter Brooks score in the shade -- cute-enough numbers are handed around to the troupe of scene-stealers sharing the stage and immensely enjoying themselves.

For "He Vas My Boyfriend" -- in which she declares her undying love for Frederick's late grandfather, Victor -- Andrea Martin wears a severe Paul H. Huntley wig, straddles a chair, and goes for the Tony gold. So does the rubber-legged Fitzgerald when leading the entire ensemble in the mock dance-craze turn, "Transylvania Mania," at the end of Act I. Megan Mullally, who chirped her way to nation's darling as Karen Walker on Will & Grace, reminds theater audiences what belt-to-the-rafters pipes she has late in Act II in "Deep Love," another item where Brooks stretches his love of sexual double entendres to the limit and beyond.

But Mullally -- unintentionally, it must be said -- is part of the problem that occasionally afflicts Young Frankenstein. In bringing his film script to the stage with Producers collaborator Thomas Meehan, Brooks has found lines in the original that do indeed sound like song cues. But elaborating on so many of them and finding other spots to introduce campy songs attenuates the plot. In the instance of Mullally -- who's billed second to Bart despite her somewhat meager stage time -- it means assigning her two busy numbers, "Please Don't Touch Me" (in which she calls much attention to her bosom, a part of her anatomy prominently displayed time and again by costumer William Ivey Long) and "Surprise" that seem unnecessary. After all, this is a story that needs to go lickety-split as it sends up Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus and the kitschy horror films pegged to it.

The Brooks-Meehan combo has some dialogue lapses as well. Whereas every joke in The Producers lands squarely, too many of the gags and situations here misfire or flare so dimly as to be undetectable. The pace is noticeably slow at the top of the show, despite a clever tongue-tying number about the brain that Bart delivers with crisp expertise.

Bart, who has Danny Kaye's ability to be goofily intelligent and intelligently goofy, throws himself into the scrumptious role of a crazed life-giving scientist. Showing off what is becoming her signature cartwheel, the leggy Foster has a "hayday" with Inga, a character some musical fans may decide is a cousin to The Producer's Ulla.

Hensley, who won the Tony as the oafish Jud Fry in the 2002 Oklahoma! revival and more recently played a gorilla in Tarzan, adds impressively to his list of brawn-not-brains types. Rounding out the principal cast, Fred Applegate doubles as a Transylvanian inspector and the beloved blind hermit with a pronounced sense of great fun.

Brooks loves clowns, so it's no surprise that he and Stroman keep this rowdy collection singing and dancing sufficiently well to get patrons as happy as Transylvanians learning that Victor Frankenstein has gone to his reward.

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