Puttin' on the Glitz: Young Frankenstein Opens on Broadway

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08 Nov 2007

Megan Mullally, Andrea Martin and Christopher Fitzgerald in <i>Young Frankenstein</i>.
Megan Mullally, Andrea Martin and Christopher Fitzgerald in Young Frankenstein.
Photo by Paul Kolnik

He grunts, he shuffles, he stomps — he sings! Mary Shelley's 19th-century creature has been reinvented for Broadway in Young Frankenstein, the new Mel Brooks musical, opening Nov. 8 at the Hilton Theatre.

The new show is not just a take on the 1819 Shelley gothic horror classic, "Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus," but an expansion of Brooks' 1974 hit film comedy "Young Frankenstein." Songs by composer-lyricist Brooks have been added, and scenes have been re-arranged or created by librettists Brooks and Thomas Meehan. Susan Stroman (The Producers) directs and choreographs.

For those keeping score, the musical (which began previews Oct. 11) and the movie (with an Oscar-nominated screenplay by Brooks and Gene Wilder) spoof not so much the novel as the Depression-era Hollywood pictures that were inspired by the book. The title refers to the mad doctor rather than the monster he created from cadavers and a pickled brain.

When they were first working on the film, Brooks and Wilder did their research and watched hours of Boris Karloff pictures, directed by James Whale.

"We ran off all the old Universal monster movies," Brooks told Playbill magazine. "For months and months, all I saw was James Whale movies. He did the original 'Frankenstein,' 'The Bride of Frankenstein,' 'Frankenstein's Second-Cousin,' all of 'em." Brooks said he was in touch with Wilder in the process of turning their black-and-white comedy into a colorful stage musical. "I don't do anything till I sing Gene the songs," Brooks said. "He loves that this is becoming a musical."



The title character, Dr. Frederick Frankenstein, heir to the castle where an earlier Dr. Frankenstein created life out of death, is played by Tony Award winner Roger Bart, who was Carmen Ghia in Brooks' The Producers.

The production also stars Megan Mullally (as the doctor's love interest, Elizabeth), Tony winner Sutton Foster (as comely assistant Inga, who sings a number called "Roll in the Hay"), Tony winner Shuler Hensley (The Monster), Tony winner Andrea Martin (as castle matron Frau Blucher), Fred Applegate (as Transylvanian policeman Inspector Kemp, and a Hermit) and Christopher Fitzgerald (as hunchback Igor) with an ensemble that includes Heather Ayers, Jim Borstelmann, Paul Castree, Jennifer Lee Crowl, Jack Doyle, Renée Feder, James Gray, Amy Heggins, Eric Jackson, Kristin Marie Johnson, Matthew LaBanca, Kevin Ligon, Barrett Martin, Linda Mugleston, Christina Marie Norrup, Justin Patterson, Brian Shepard, Sarrah Strimel, Craig Waletzko and Courtney Young.

Like Spamalot before it, the show's audience will likely be divided into two camps: those who know the film comedy by heart (and may know the old Karloff pics) and those who have never heard of or seen either.

In 2000, the Brooks film was selected as No. 13 on American Film Institute's list of "100 Funniest American Movies of All Time" and in 2003, "Young Frankenstein" was chosen for preservation in the Library of Congress National Film Registry. The film is available on DVD.

The stage show does recreate (and expand on) one of the most indelible scenes in the history of Hollywood comedy. Added into the collection of brand-new songs by Tony Award-winning composer-lyricist Brooks is Irving Berlin's "Puttin' on the Ritz," sung in the film — absurdly and without apology — as a public coming-out for the Monster that Dr. Frederick Frankenstein, grandson of the famed mad scientist, has created.

The Berlin number in the movie was grunted by Peter Boyle (who played the monster) in a duet with Gene Wilder (as Dr. Frankenstein). But in director-choreographer Stroman's Broadway staging, the number builds and builds into a tap extravaganza that, observers of the show say, gives "Springtime for Hitler" from The Producers a run for its money.

"The number is unbelievable," Hensley told Playbill magazine over the summer. "It's probably seven or eight minutes, and it's a throwback to the old musicals. It's a big spectacle and pulls out all the stops. What's so great about Stro is that she tells stories through dance. And 'Puttin' on the Ritz' tells a complete story."

Decca will record the musical's cast album Nov. 12 toward a Dec. 26 release. Doug Besterman, Young Frankenstein's orchestrator, will be the recording producer for the Decca Broadway CD.

Although the new musical at the Hilton Theatre does not feature an overture, Brooks has composed (one assumes, with the aid of his musician colleagues) a special overture for the recording, according to the Decca spokesperson.

The original cast recording of Young Frankenstein will also be available for purchase on iTunes and in the lobby of the Hilton Theatre in late December.

Song titles include "The Happiest Town," "The Brain," "Please Don't Touch Me," "Together Again," "Roll in the Hay," "Join the Family Business," "He Vas My Boyfriend," "The Law," "Life, Life," "Welcome to Transylvania," "Transylvania Mania," "He's Loose," "Listen to Your Heart," "Surprise," "Please Send Me Someone," "Man About Town," "Puttin' on the Ritz" (music and lyrics by Irving Berlin), "Deep Love," "Frederick's Soliloquy," "Deep Love (reprise)" and "Finale Ultimo."

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Brooks is hoping that lightning will strike twice with Young Frankenstein — the second time he's adapted one of his film comedies for the musical stage. Young Frankenstein is Brooks' Broadway follow-up to the film-inspired Producers, winner of the most Tony Awards in the history of the award — 12.

Robert F.X. Sillerman and Mel Brooks in association with The R/F/B/V Group are producing the new musical, which has an official title of The New Mel Brooks Musical Young Frankenstein.

Dressed up like a million dollar trouper, the monster of Young Frankenstein exposed himself to the pitchforks, torches — and also potential embraces — of critics Aug. 23, when the musical officially opened in Seattle after previews there from Aug. 7.

Young Frankenstein ended its pre-Broadway Seattle engagement at the Paramount Theatre Sept. 1.

The elaborate sets by Tony Award winner Robin Wagner were trucked to Manhattan, and the cast jumped back into rehearsal in New York. During Broadway previews, Roger Bart missed a number of performances due to a back injury (understudy Matt LaBanca stepped in).

The musical relies on the same creative team that turned The Producers into a critical and box-office smashzilla in 2001.

The production team includes three Tony Award-winning designers of The Producers: three-time Tony Award-winning set designer Robin Wagner, five-time Tony Award-winning costume designer William Ivey Long and Tony Award-winning lighting designer Peter Kaczorowski. Hair and wig design is by Producers veteran Paul Huntley. Jonathan Deans is the sound designer. Two other Producers alumni complete the music department: Tony-award winning orchestrator Doug Besterman and musical director and vocal arranger Patrick S. Brady.

At the helm again are Producers alumni Tony-winning director-choreographer Stroman, Tony-winning co-librettists Brooks and Thomas Meehan, and music supervisor Glen Kelly, who made Brooks' songs for The Producers soar.

Marc Brickman designed the special effects, Angelina Avallone is the make-up designer, casting is by Tara Rubin Casting, and John Miller (The Producers) is music coordinator.

In terms of high-profile, marquee-value musicals for the season, Young Frankenstein is one of the biggest deals on Broadway so far in 2007-08. The show's top ticket prices are $450 and $375 for "premier" seats, with plenty of $120 seats available in and around the same area.

That high-price offer was established in anticipation of high demand for the show, but it should be noted that "dynamic pricing" is in effect. That is, if the $450 seats do not sell, they will be released at the box office (at a time to be determined by the producers) for $120 — the standard price for a Broadway orchestra seat. Conversely, if all allotted $450 seats are sold, additional seats priced at $120 can be marked up. It's all about what the market will allow.

There is also a cheap-seat lottery offer in effect, plus seats in the balcony will cost $60-$80.

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According to the producers, "Based on the Oscar-nominated smash hit 1974 film, Young Frankenstein is the wickedly inspired re-imagining of the Mary Shelley classic from the comic genius of Mel Brooks. When Frederick Frankenstein, an esteemed New York brain surgeon and professor, inherits a castle and laboratory in Transylvania from his grandfather, deranged genius Victor Von Frankenstein, he faces a dilemma. Does he continue to run from his family's tortured past or does he stay in Transylvania to carry on his grandfather's mad experiments reanimating the dead and, in the process, fall in love with his sexy lab assistant Inga?"

The show is set "in the forbidding Castle Frankenstein and the foggy moors of Transylvania Heights."

For more information, visit www.YoungFrankensteinTheMusical.com.

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The 1974 film received two Academy Award nominations, including one for Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder's script, also nominated for a Writer's Guild of America Award for Best Adapted Screenplay. Wilder starred in the title role.

"Young Frankenstein" the film draws its inspiration from director James Whale's famous films "Frankenstein" (1931) and "Bride of Frankenstein" (1935). In both, Boris Karloff played the monster and Colin Clive the mad doctor (whose name was "Henry Frankenstein" rather than the novel's "Victor").

On Oct. 10, at Off-Broadway's 37 Arts, the serious-minded Frankenstein, a New Musical began performances. The show is more faithful to Mary Shelley's 19th-century novel, and features Sutton Foster's Tony Award-nominated brother, Hunter Foster, as Dr. Victor Frankenstein.

Mary Shelley's novel "Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus" (1818, and revised in 1831), about a doctor who brings a corpse back to life — and the mayhem that follows — has inspired stage versions for many years. Some examples:

  • Frank Wildhorn is working on a stage musical of the tale that incorporates Mary Shelley as a character.

  • In 1980-81, a special-effects-packed non-musical, Frankenstein, by Victor Gialanella, was, at the time, the most expensive production ever on Broadway. The flop won a Drama Desk Award for its potent lighting design.

  • In 2001, Prometheus Dreams, a musical exploration of the material, with music by Sean Michael Flowers and book and lyrics by Patrick Vaughn, was presented by The Human Race Theatre Company in Dayton, OH.

  • Frankenstein, the Musical, with book, music and lyrics by Robert Mitchell, played Off-Off-Broadway's Wings Theatre in 2006.

  • A show called Frankenstein…do you dream? appeared as part of the New York Musical Theatre Festival in 2004, after beginning life in Canada.

  • Have I Got a Girl for You! The Frankenstein Musical had an Off-Broadway run in 1986.