With Mel Brooks you laugh in spite of yourself, but laugh (until you cry) you most certainly do. And there is no better example of why this is the case than his wonderfully demented Transylvanian vaudeville, “Young Frankenstein.”
This 2007 Broadway musical, which Brooks (in collaboration with writer Thomas Meehan) based on his hit 1974 film (itself the wackiest of homages to the classic 1930s movies inspired by Mary Shelley’s classic tale about life, death and what it means to be human), had the misfortune of arriving in the wake of his megahit musical, “The Producers.” Two hits in a row are rarely permitted, and from the start, “Young Frankenstein” was sorely underrated. The boffo Drury Lane Theatre revival that opened Thursday should set the record straight.
With fabulously integrated work by director William Osetek, choreographer Tammy Mader (who probably hasn’t slept in months, given that she also staged the dazzling dances in Paramount Theatre’s “42nd Street”), set designer Kevin Depinet (also doing double duty), music director Roberta Duchak and a zany, hyper-energized cast that delivers the shtick via powerhouse technique, the show is a spirit-raising hoot from start to finish.
Sure, the peasants, hermits, nymphomaniacs and wigged-out scientists of Brooks’ all-purpose Central European goulash have more than a little “Spamalot”-goes-to-Romania about them. But, really, how can you not love a show whose lyrics proclaim: “There is nothing like a brain” (apologies to Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “dame”), and proceed to set all sections of your frontal lobes whirling in a crazy hora? Brooks’ lyrics stand out here thanks to the cast’s impeccable diction — a major plus.
Of course you know the story. Dr. Frederick Frankenstein (Devin DeSantis in a fleet, agile, breathtaking performance that marks a major career breakthrough) is a brilliant, sexually arrested New York medical researcher who just happens to be the grandson of the infamous Dr. Victor Von Frankenstein (Jeff Parker in top form), the man who experimented in reanimating the dead.
When the seemingly modern-minded Frederick heads to Transylvania to settle estate matters at the Frankenstein Castle, he is quickly befriended by the movable humpback, Igor (that great comic, Jeff Dumas), under suspicion by the mechanical Inspector Hans Kemp (inspired nuttiness by Scott Calcagno), and sidetracked by his own experiments aimed at conjuring a mighty Monster (Travis Taylor in a monstrously wonderful turn). The Monster must pass through a painful humanization process that climaxes with a quintessential trademark of civilization at its best — a virtuosic tap dance in top hat and tails set to Irving Berlin’s “Puttin’ on the Ritz.”
And of course there are the women, one more bananas than the next, with three dazzling actresses each bringing down the house in their particular way: voluptuous, ready-and-willing, happily yodeling Inga (gorgeous Allison Sill); narcissistic “don’t touch me,” sex-starved socialite Elizabeth (Johanna McKenzie Miller revealing a whole new side), and the wacko, horse-whinnying Frau Blucher (Paula Scrofano, who repeatedly brings the house down, especially in “He Vas My Boyfriend”). And about that song, I ask you: Who, aside from Mel Brooks, could conjure echoes of Brecht with such crazy Borscht Belt genius? I rest my case.