I filed two Wall Street Journal drama columns this week, the first one on Tom Stoppard’s Rock ‘n’ Roll and the second, which appears in this morning’s paper, on Mel Brooks’ musical version of Young Frankenstein:
Anyone who goes to “Young Frankenstein” expecting the musical of the year is in for an unpleasant surprise: It’s one of those promising but uneven shows that, had it been written in 1957, would have been heavily doctored out of town, then brought to Broadway for a solid run. Funny it is–sometimes–but bulletproof it ain’t….
Not only is the book sorely in need of deep cutting, but the songs are neither lyrically nor melodically memorable, though a couple of them, “Join the Family Business” in particular, work well enough in the context of the show. Still, Mr. Brooks is a pasticheur, not a true songwriter, and it says everything about his strictly limited gifts that the most effective production number in the show, “Puttin’ on the Ritz,” was written by Irving Berlin….
This brings us to the not-so-small matter of the cast. “Young Frankenstein” was one of the most vividly and distinctively cast film comedies of the ’70s. Because the musical is so similar to the movie, it’s impossible not to compare the two sets of performers, and the new ones mostly suffer by contrast…
I’m not saying that “Young Frankenstein” didn’t make me laugh, but it did so in a way reminiscent of a big, stupid German shepherd who knocks you down and nuzzles your face until you finally give in and scratch its ears. I prefer comedy that doesn’t try so hard–and doesn’t have to.
The drill remains unchanged: buy a paper to read the whole thing, or go here to subscribe to the Online Journal, which will give you immediate access to all of the Journal‘s arts coverage, both of my drama columns included. (If you’re already a subscriber to the Online Journal, the Young Frankenstein review is here.)