8 Jan. 28 – Jan. 30; 2 p.m. Saturday; 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Sunday. $18-$57. Presented by Broadway Across America-Atlanta. Fox Theatre, 660 Peachtree St. N.E., Atlanta. 1-800-982-2787, ticketmaster.com.
By Wendell Brock
Talk about bringing a show back from the grave.
Mel Brooks’ “Young Frankenstein,” which critics prematurely pronounced DOA when it appeared on Broadway three years ago, has made a triumphant recovery in the form of a national tour playing the Fox Theatre through Sunday.
Scaled-down from its monster-size construction, deliciously performed by a first-rate company of over-the-top comedians and featuring a gently affecting turn by Marietta native Shuler Hensley as the misunderstood monster, “Young Frankenstein” transmogrifies the low-brow shtick of the 1974 film into a relentlessly silly musical comedy that tickles but never overtaxes the brain.
With music and lyrics by Brooks, book by Thomas Meehan and direction and choreography by Susan Stroman, “Young Frankenstein” reassembles the team behind “The Producers,” the nearly epochal Broadway musical that won 12 Tony Awards and truly was a monster smash. Yet for the record, “Young Frankenstein” doesn’t boast the kind of infectious score that makes a cast recording essential to your library, nor the sort of razzle-dazzle dance magic that made Stroman’s work on “The Producers” feel so fresh and inventive.
But Robin Wagner’s sets and William Ivey Long’s costumes are dazzling.
And performance-wise, “Young Frank” does have its moments, particularly the strobe-lit “Puttin’ on the Ritz” number that has Hensley dancing in front of a mirror-image that morphs into a chorus line of tap-dancing, top-hat-wearing Fred Astaire wannabes in giant platform shoes. Hensley — who won a Tony Award for Trevor Nunn’s “Oklahoma!” — has never performed professionally in Atlanta, so his presence is a noteworthy event in itself. Though his magnificent baritone instrument is seriously underused here, he gets to grunt and bellow and look so hurt and unloved at times that it’s nearly heartbreaking.
Not to be overlooked, however, is Roger Bart, who has come fully into his own in the title role. When I saw “Young Frankenstein” shortly after it opened on Broadway, it felt a little strained and a little uninspired — a procession of outsize supporting players in search of a charismatic leading man. Happily, Bart has found his groove. This time, he earns the laughs, mining hidden gold from the material with his thick-tongued, gob-smacked tomfoolery as well as that trademark deflating nasal edge.
As Inga, Doctor Frankenstein’s comely blond assistant, Anne Horak’s accent is a little wobbly (especially when she sings). As Igor, Cory English is such a vivid presence that he’s a little distracting (unlike film star Marty Feldman, who could generate laughs without moving an eyebrow). And Beth Curry, as grande dame Elizabeth, hasn’t quite mastered what may be the show’s trickiest role: a character who disappears for most of Act I and reappears later mostly to forward the plot to its zany conclusion. Curry works hard but never quite hits it.
That said, Joanna Glushak’s account of the severe Frau Blucher is divinely demented, and Brad Oscar deserves extra points for doing double duty as the creaky-armed Inspector Kemp and the lonely Hermit.
Brooks’ punch-drunk puns are an homage to the golden age of musical theater. Listen closely and you’ll hear echoes of “Oklahoma!” and “My Fair Lady” in “The Brain” (“The Brain! There is nothing like the brain”) and crude vestiges of Cole Porter in “Transylvania Mania.”
But the genius of “Young Frankenstein” is in the foolproof timing of its low-brow humor and endless sexual innuendo. At the end of the day, it’s a roll in the hay and some of the giddiest business in the biz.