Mel Brooks fans remember the iconic moment when Dr. Frederick Frankenstein’s monster, dolled up in tails and top hat, first groans out, “Puttin’ on the Ritz” in front of an audience of terrified Transylvanian villagers in “Young Frankenstein.” They relived the moment at Wednesday’s musical adaptation of the film.
The musical recounts the story of Frederick Frankenstein (A.J. Holmes), a noted brain surgeon embarrassed by his grandfather, Victor von Frankenstein, and his family legacy of creating monsters. Compelled by his grandfather’s will, he leaves New York and his fiancée, Elizabeth (Lexie Dorsett), and arrives at the family castle where mysterious violin music lures him into his grandfather’s laboratory. With the help of his sidekick, Igor (Christopher Timson); his housekeeper, Frau Blucher (Pat Sibley); and his comely lab assistant, Inga (Elizabeth Pawlowski), he reluctantly enters into the family business. The electrified monster escapes; the fiancée arrives and discovers the doctor and his assistant playing anatomy and hijinks ensue.
Brooks, who wrote the music and the lyrics and co-wrote the book, expanded the original movie by taking some of the best lines and moments and making them into musical numbers such as Frau Blucher’s “He Vas My Boyfriend,” Elizabeth’s “Don’t Touch Me” and “Deep Love,” and Inga’s “Roll in the Hay.”
The story, coupled with the raunchy humor, makes for classic Brooks comedy. Most of the sexual innuendo plays for 13-year-old boy humor, raunchy and funny, totally not sexy. With broad physical gesturing, slapstick, double entendres and more repetition of slang for female body parts than one often hears in a song, much of the humor is simultaneously silly and groan inducing.
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Holmes as Frankenstein has the unenviable task of living up to the fantastic performance of Gene Wilder in the same role. Like Wilder, Holmes harnessed the rising mania in the screechy voice and the crazed, crisp gestures of a man on the brink of madness.
Audiences met Inga when she sprang from beneath the hay and offered a “roll in za hay,” one of the most amusing musical numbers made even more so by the dancing horses that accompany her yodeling.
Dorsett as Frankenstein’s “madcap” fiancée had wonderful moments where she oscillated between seductress, infantilizer and self-obsessed socialite. The show’s clear stand out, though, was Christopher Timson, a skulking, slinky Igor who is part sycophant, part song-and-dance man. Brooks reprises the moving back hump joke as well as the slavish devotion of the original character, but Timson brought a gleeful absurdity to the role that made him steal every scene he was in.
“Puttin’ on the Ritz” remained at the heart of the show, with a big tap number, and an endearing tap dance between the monster and his unruly shadow. For those familiar with the show, much of the night was
spent in fond nostalgia. Those new to the show got a taste of Mel Brooks’ stamp — raunchy humor, silly puns, broad slapstick and some bosomy blondes.
Camille-Yvette Welsch can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.