Book by Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan
Music and Lyrics by Mel Brooks
Directed and choreographed by Susan Stroman
Starring Christopher Ryan, Cory English, Janine DaVita, Synthia Link
Broadway Across America at the Bob Carr Auditorium, Orlando, FL
Today’s Broadway is more conservative than Hollywood: without the Netflix distribution model live shows tour to recoup their investment. Thus, the safest shows derive from successful presold films set to music, and after New Yorkers stop showing up, they hit the road and tour the sticks like Orlando. This time a clever Mel Brooks comedy added a big budget and high hopes and created a short running critically “meh” Broadway experience. It’s not a bad musical, but it’s not great but an excellent case study of why film and stage differ, and how hard it is to do comedy in a big space.
For a Tuesday night the Carr was comfortably full, and now that the old basketball palace is abandoned parking was a breeze. A local news anchor opened the show in his shiny suit and TV hair and asked us to silence our phones and please, please, watch the evening news. Modern Broadcast News is so sad but out in Transylvania, things are looking up – Old Doctor Frankenstein kicked off, and the town’s people are looking forward to some monster-free summers now Gothic health care is off their backs. But wait – his grandson Frederick (Ryan) teaches brain stuff in NYC, and still poses a risk. He heads over to Eastern Romania to clear up the estate and soon rejoins the family tradition at the behest of his grandpa’s ghost. His new assistants, hunch back Igor (English) and nubile Inga (Link) show promise, Frau Blucher (Joanna Glushak) gives him the resurrection operating manual and pretty soon its monster mash time. While The Monster (Preston Truman Boyd) has a serious hair lip, he gets better laughs than Frederick, and while the running jokes about Frau Blucher draw laughs, it takes two guys in a horse’s heads to really sell them. The word play and small glances between Igor, Frederick and Inga are lost, and it occasionally hurts to hear laugh-out-loud-jokes from the movie get swallowed up in the vast space of the Carr. You just can’t replace a quick cut close up with a spotlight to stage left.
Still, the production number and dancing were worth the price, and the payoff for sitting through the first act was a blow out “Puttin’ On The Ritz.” While director Stroman has trouble getting her cast to time jokes, she can pull off a dance number. Besides putting every tuxedo in Orlando on stage, she used the blinding lightening-effect strobes to burn suspended dancers into our retinas. Where this show worked best was when it abandoned the orginal story thread and went off on its own – “Join the Family Business” looked great and had a surprising and impressive 20 foot high puppet, Inga’s “Listen To Your Heart” was nearly touching, and the Hermit (David Benoit) gave us a heartfelt “Please Send Me Someone.” On the other hand Brooks kept most of the film’s incidental humor but lost the timing – you’ll recall most of the jokes, and ask yourself “Why aren’t I laughing?” Plus, the sexual tension that drove the story gets lost in the wings, replaced by larger and cruder jokes. What Brooks did with a wink and a cut just can’t be conveyed on this scale, and it can’t be replaced by an off color joke. The enjoyment to disappointment ratio is pretty balanced, and chortles outweigh guffaws, but the dancing is to die for.
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