By R. J. Donovan
These days, it's a rare thing when the star of a Broadway musical agrees to take the show on the road. But that's exactly the case with Mel Brooks' "Young Frankenstein," starring Roger Bart and currently playing at The Opera House.
With mammoth list of stage and television credits (including a Tony Award), Bart (left with Rye Mullis) created the role of Dr. Frederick Frankenstein in this madcap horror musical.
As I've stated a few times in the past, some performers say funny things, and some performers say things funny. Roger Bart is in that elite group that can do both. Whether playing it straight in some of the more frantic moments, or losing control when things get out of hand, he's a riot. More to the point, he's the major reason to see the show on tour. His talents, personality and physicality are expressive, inventive and laugh out loud funny.
The musical is based on Brook's iconic 1974 black and white movie of the same name-- and that's the draw for most of the audience. At each and every memorable punchline, they roar in approval -- from the Frau Blucher horse whinny to spinning bookcases, giant door knockers, misplaced brains and the non-stop sexual innuendo.
Dr. Frederick Frankenstein is a prominent New York physician who must travel to Transylvania to settle the estate of his late grandfather, who had a habit of digging up corpses and bringing them back to life. Frederick wants no part of this. Still, he befriends the hunchback-laden Igor, acquires a curvaceous lab assistant, is eventually bitten by the bug and succumbs to the family business. He builds a monster, teaches him to sing and dance and finds true love in the process. The. End.
The addition for the stage, of course, is the musical score. And Brooks has again given us some fun songs with clever lyrics. The show's book is by Brooks and Thomas Meehan. Direction and choreography is from award-winning Susan Stroman.
"Young Frankenstein" probably wouldn't have seen the first flash of lightning without the phenomenal success Brooks, Meehan and Stroman achieved with "The Producers." But where "The Producers" was blessed with 12 Tony Awards and lines at the box office that ran down 44th Street and right into New Jersey, "Young Frankenstein" wasn't quite as crowned. And while "Young Frankenstein" is fun, it comes in as a 7.5 against "The Producers" 10.
The supporting cast, including Beth Curry as Elizabeth, Frederick's adorable madcap fiance, Anne Horak as Inga the sexy lab assistant, Joanne Glushak as the severely mysterious Frau Blucher, and Rye Mullis as The Monster, are all fine.
But at the center of it all is Bart. He's delightful setting the tone in his first tongue-twisting number, "The Brain," great in the vaudevillian duet "Together Again" with Igor, and a scream when he gets locked in a room with The Monster.
The iconic section of the show, of course, comes with Irving Berlin's "Puttin' On The Ritz," which introduces the tap-dancing Monster to the world. While the film version was funny, Stroman takes it even further as Bart, Mullis and the company present a full blown top-hat-and-cane production number that includes shadow dancing, moment-freezing strobe lights and a full chorus of Fred Astaire monsters.
Aside from Bart, the actors who shine throughout are Cory English as Igor (sorry, Eye-Gore) the gopher, and Brad Oscar who does double duty as both Inspector Kemp and The Blind Hermit. The scene with the Monster and the Hermit is one of the sharpest in the show. Mullis' frustration is hysterical, and Oscar, when he's not pouring scalding soup on the Monster's crotch or setting him on fire, sells the song "Please Send Me Someone" for all it's worth.
(Boston audiences last saw Oscar when he starred as Max Bialystock in the first national tour of "The Producers," which kicked off right here at The Colonial. The other connection between Oscar and Bart is via the original Broadway cast of "The Producers." They both started off in supporting roles, eventually taking over for Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick respectively, delivering razor sharp performances as Bialystock and Bloom.)
So in the end, it's all silly fun, triggered by cult devotion to a comedy classic.
"Young Frankenstein " is at The Opera House through May 2. For information, call 800-982-2787.
-- OnStage Boston
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