The brainchild of EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony) holder Mel Brooks, the creative force behind classics like The Producers, and visionary director and choreographer Susan Stroman who’s work includes the Scotsboro’ Boys and Centre Stage; expectations of Young Frankenstein were always going to be high. Despite this Young Frankenstein’s West End production somehow manages to high jump over them with ease. The pair’s musical adaptation of Brook’s much loved 1974 film is a multi-faceted triumph oozing with hilarity, bawdy double entendres and phenomenal dance sequences.
We meet young Frederick Frankenstein (Hadley Fraser), a promising young professor of Anatomy at a New York university desperate to shake off associations with his infamous grandfather: “that Frankenstein”. When old Frankenstein dies his dutiful grandson must leave his delightfully high strung fiancée Elizabeth (Dianne Pilkington), and collect his inheritance in Transylvania. There he meets his faithful servant Igor (Ross Noble), busty lab assistant Inga (Summer Strallen) and the mysterious housekeeper Frau Blücher (Lesley Joseph). And before long it appears that history might repeat itself.
With beautiful set designs and costumes that exude an updated version of the kitschy nostalgia of a 70’s low budget horror film Young Frankenstein dazzles from beginning to end. Many of the attitudes the play espouses about women, however, and the portrayal of its female characters largely as former or current sex objects is unfortunately very firmly of its time. Despite this it’s bawdy script and songs keep the audience in fits of laughter, with Brooks injecting humour into every aspect of the play including a song detailing the anatomical virtues of the brain. Pilkington’s Elizabeth is hysterically uptight and delivers some of the play’s best vocal performances, and Fraser excels as the loveable Young Frankenstein.
The razor sharp comedic timing of the entire cast particularly the main trio of Fraser, Noble and Strallen as well as the villager ensemble serves to elevate the script. The audience have the pleasure of watching with glee as the characters bounce off each other, and Brooks leaves plenty of Easter eggs for fans of the film.
In a different production it would be easy for the dance performances to get lost amongst the strong vocal performances and equally strong script. Stroman however does not disappoint giving us a Liza Minnelli style Cabaret number complete with chair, a show stopper of a tap dance number seemingly plucked from a classic MGM film and an innuendo ladled number about a ride in the hay which takes place on a hay wagon. Through these numbers Stroman is able to showcase her own versatility as a choreographer and that of her talented cast.
Young Frankenstein is a bawdy success on all fronts to be enjoyed by fans of Brooks, fans of musicals and for anyone who just wants a good laugh.
Young Frankenstein is playing at the Garrick Theatre until 10th February 2018. For more information and tickets, see www.youngfrankenstein.co.uk/