May 31, 2008

Young Frankenstein and the Theater Experience

Something strange happened at the theater. I read that this theater in New York City was running Mel Brooks' Young Frankenstein. My first reaction was: "Awesome!" You see, I'd never seen the film on the big screen, so I eagerly bought a ticket. This was an opportunity that I did not want to miss. Yes, the ticket did seem awfully expensive, but it was still well worth the expense.

The big day arrived. I drove to the train station and was lucky enough to find a parking space that was something like half a mile from the platform (although it felt like much longer). I made the long walk, purchased a round trip tain ticket and waited. The wait was not long and soon I was nestled in my seat watching the Hudson River zip past. I arrived at Grand Central Terminal and made my way up to 42nd Street, I turned right and began to walk.

I walked a few blocks, passing the Met's Clubhouse store, the New York Public Library, and Times Square, then I saw the sign. In big letters I saw: "YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN." I knew I was in the right place. Right place it may be, but I found it a little odd that they only seemed to be showing one show, and the signage seemed to be a little much for a film that is more than thirty years old. Who am I to complain?

I went inside and picked up my ticket at the will call window and then went to walk around the city to kill some time. I did have about two hours before the start, no sense in hanging around there for that long. So, I walked uptown and downtown, took a few pictures, visited St. Patrick's Cathedral, and by the time I got through there, it was time to head back.

Arriving back at the theater, I followed the growing crowd inside and was directed upstairs to the balcony. I found my seat and settled into the surprisingly comfortable seat. I looked down and saw a nicely designed screen image showing a winding path leading to an eerie castle. This was definitely a classy joint, chandeliers hanging from the ceiling and none of those pre-show trailers and commercials.

2:00 arrived and the strangeness continued. Rather than the film being projected on the scren, the screen was raised up to reveal the characters standing there.

Wait, it gets stranger.

I was looking for the black and white film to begin, but it was in color. Color! Something strange is going on here. Was a remake made that I did not know about? And, hold the phone, those characters were people! I know they're people, but it looked like they were really there. This couldn't be a 3D screening, I wasn't wearing any glasses. Those people were really there on the stage!

Okay, let's see what we have here: comfortable seats, classy surroundings, real people on the stage, more songs than I remember, and a lead actor who doesn't look anything like Gene Wilder. Upon closer inspection I recognized that guy as Roger Bart. The last time I saw him, he was on the receiving end of a pair of clippers (it didn't end well). He certainly appears to have made a full recovery from any ill effects received from said clippers. Good for him.

A sudden realization has dawned upon me. This was not the classic movie that I love so much, it is not a remake, and it is not a 3D screening, this is, in fact, a new musical based on the Mel Brooks classic. After all, the theater was quite close to Broadway. With this knowledge, I sat back, determined to enjoy what I saw.

I am no theater critic, the shows I have seen can be counted on one hand. However, being familiar with the film helped with the Broadway theater experience. This show was a blast. The songs were big and memorable, the choreography was excellent, and I found myself laughing out loud many times throughout the show.

The story follows Dr. Frankenstein, a professor in New York City, who travels to Transylvania in the wake of his Grandfather's death, an event that was celebrated by the townsfolk who have been terrorized by his monstrous creations. Frankenstein is determined not to take up the family business, not wanting to deal with the reanimation of dead tissue. However, the influence of Igor, a hunchbacked man whose only desire is to assist in the research, Inga, the buxom lab assistant, and the surprising appearance of his dead relative, have inspired him to enter the hidden laboratory and resume the experiments.

Seeing the story told on the stage brings a wonderful new dynamic. I am simply amazed at what can be done with stage setups and special effects in such a limited space, the seamless transitions, and the ease with which all involved approach the performance. I can only imagine how much rehearsing has to go in to make the show work. The entire cast did a fantastic job of telling the story of Young Frankenstein.

There are a number of great songs throughout. Among the most memorable are "Don't Touch Me," sung by Elizabeth to Frankenstein prior to his departure for Transylvania, Inga's "Roll in the Hay" (a line made memorably by Terri Garr in the film), "He Vas my Boyfriend" from the housekeeper Frau Bleucher, and, of course, "Puttin' on the Ritz" featuring the Monster.

In short, this show is a blast. The music is great, the performances are great (even though Megan Mullaly was not there), and it is just a lot of fun. Do yourself a favor, go and see it.

Here is a performance of "Roll in the Hay" from The Late Show with David Letterman:


Anonymous said...

Love your review. It IS a wonderful show. I've seen it with and without Megan Mullally and as great as it is w/o her in it, its 100 times better with her as Elizabeth!
Thanks for sharing your experience!

Chris said...

Hi Jeri,
Thank you for reading. I am glad you enjoyed it! Not sure I will get down to see the show again, but I will be picking up the cast recording!

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