Young Frankenstein: The New Mel Brooks Musical [Original Broadway Cast Recording]

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The Producers, Mel Brooks' first foray into musical theater after a lengthy career as a writer/director/actor in TV and film comedy, was an enormous hit in part because it surprised people. Brooks had occasionally written songs for his movies (The Producers among them), but his competency in coming up with a full musical score was not expected, and it won him a Tony Award. In fact, The Producers won Tony Awards for just about everything it could be nominated for and began a multiyear run. No small part of that success, however, was due to its two stars, Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick, who turned out to be difficult to replace. Brooks' second attempt at a stage musical, Young Frankenstein, also based on one of his films, shouldn't have that particular problem. Roger Bart, who stars as Dr. Frederick Frankenstein, was also in The Producers in a supporting role. He is given some strong support himself this time, in a cast that includes Broadway veterans Sutton Foster, Andrea Martin, and Shuler Hensley. But with his limited, boyish tenor, he doesn't really stand out. It would not be hard to imagine stronger stars who might replace him and continue the show's run, starting with Broderick if he were willing. Among the supporting cast, Martin makes the strongest impression as Frau Blucher, singing a song developed out of the famous movie line "He Vas My Boyfriend." Foster, typical for any Brooks effort, is expected to be a cheerfully slutty vamp, which is just not the sort of part to which she's suited. (This is a Broadway star who has shone in Thoroughly Modern Millie, The Drowsy Chaperone, and even Little Women, but a sexpot she's not.) Hensley, as the Monster, doesn't get to do much musically except, of course, wail his way through Irving Berlin's "Puttin' on the Ritz," as Peter Boyle did in the movie. Without star power, then, the show relies more than The Producers did on Brooks' score, which consists of pastiches of 1930s show tunes, keying off the musical's overall parody of the 1931 Frankenstein film directed by James Whale. Typically, Brooks leans on mild and explicit vulgarities and sexual references as punch lines; his is not a humor of wit, so much as old-fashioned bawdiness, of course. It's sophomoric by definition, but in a movie as well as a stage show, there's so much of it that it overwhelms the audience until laughter is extracted, willingly or not. On a mere cast album, however, it rarely seems funny. So, one is left with mediocre evocations of the style of Berlin, Jerome Kern, and George Gershwin, plus dirty words.

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