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A CurtainUp London Review
Like my editor, Brooks' comic vein is not one I usually love as the humour is unsubtle and the laughs predictable or even vulgar but the musical version of The Producers proved us wrong. I was pleasantly surprised on seeing Young Frankenstein and relished the performances of the cast who made me smile again and again.
British comedian Ross Noble takes on the Marty Feldman role of the servant Igor with the rolling eyes, and clad in black cloak and hood, his exaggerated and clever facial expressions are explicit from the back row of the Dress Circle. Lesley Joseph plays Frau Blucher, Frankenstein Senior's housekeeper and love interest, and each time her name is mentioned, the horses whinny in terror. The horses were one of the quirky stagings that won me over early on in the show, as they trot towards the castle taking Young Frankenstein (Hadley Fraser) and his laboratory assistant Inga (Summer Strallen) in the hay cart. The horses wiggle and wobble on the journey and their ears have expressions all of their own.
Inga sings "Roll in the Hay" as she provocatively displays her nubile thighs for the benefit of Frederick who has just escaped the clutches of his American fiancee Elizabeth (Diane Pilkington). Elizabeth's opening song is "Please Don't Touch Me" the absolute antithesis of Inga's European approach to sex.
Brooks' clever lyrics shine in the opening number with Frederick Frankenstein in his Anthony Johns Hopkins University laboratory, along with white coated students, of "The Brain". Brooks as lyricist's rhyming of "genitalia" with "Fail ya" is witty and pretty typical of his near the boner lyrics.
Shuler Hensley who played the monster in New York is the cast member to stay and although he is American, his appearances in London have made him an honorary Brit. I well remember him as Jud Fry in the Oklahoma that starred Hugh Jackman. Hensley's monster is an attractive creature for whom we wish the best and we love his attention to the dance lessons culminating in the magnificent number of Irving Berlin's "Puttin' on the Ritz" with the monster in top hat and tails but with the chorus also wearing the heavy surgical boots of the monster. Getting together with Elizabeth sees them both singing "Deep Love" with Brooks love of innuendo in the lyrics.
Hadley Fraser as Frederick is mostly the straight man surrounded by the hilariously camp performances of many the cast, but he is a charming leading man risking all to preserve the life of his creation. Lesley Joseph's song "He Vas My Boyfriend" about her life with the first Frankenstein is hilarious and she is so well cast in this comically sinister role.
The sets and painted backdrops bring a sense of the music hall theatre that was the British tradition and this show milks the nostalgia for that era of mass entertainment. Opening night saw the magnificent Mel Brooks at 92 take to the stage to thank the cast crew and audience with several good jokes.
I'm going to break with Curtain Up custom and not link you to our reviews of Young Frankenstein of 2007 because I think the fundamental feel of the show is very different in its warmth to the cool reception it received in New York. "Young Frankenstein" London 2017 is well worth it.
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Book by Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan
Music and Lyrics by Mel Brooks
Direction and Choreography by Susan Stroman
Starring: Hadley Fraser, Lesley Joseph, Ross Noble, Diane Pilkington, Summer Strallen, Patrick Clancy, Shuler Hensley
With: Imogen Brooke, Nathan Elwick, Andrew Gordon-Watkins, Sammy Kelly, Perry O'Dea, Richard Pitt, Harriet Samuel-Gray, Gemma Scholes, Josh Wilmott
Set Designer: Beowulf Boritt
Costume Design: William Ivey Long
Lighting Design: Ben Cracknell
Sound Design: Gareth Owen
Musical supervision: Glen Kelly
Musical Direction: Andrew Hilton
Orchestrations: Doug Besterman
Running time: Two hours 30 minutes with one interval
Box Office: 0330 333 4811
Booking to 20th September 2018
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 10th October 2017 performance at the Garrick Theatre, 2 Charing Cross Road, London WC2H 0HH (Rail/Tube: Charing Cross)
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