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Young Frankenstein - Garrick Theatre

It isn’t quite Dirty Dancing, in which the stage ‘adaptation’ (inverted commas deliberate) is so faithful to the motion picture that one can’t help thinking, although the musical version is very enjoyable, that it would have been less geographically and financially inconvenient to have watched the film again at home instead. But there still seems to be, at least to me, a slight missed opportunity to adapt Young Frankenstein further from its previous big screen incarnation.

There is almost an unwillingness to even want to stray too far away from the 1974 movie. The script is even replete with references to how the storyline is typical of comedy horror movies. So many lines from the film reappear on stage that I couldn’t help but think of watching it again. By ‘it’ I mean the movie, not the stage show, which is probably not what the show’s producers intended.

It’s not like there wasn’t any thought whatsoever put into the musical: far from it. There are 19 musical numbers, for instance, far fewer than in the film, though it is with a tinge of regret that in a world of modern musical theatre where the actor as musician is so prevalent, more convincing and more prominent actor-musicianship does not appear here.

There isn’t much between Gene Wilder’s Dr Frederick Frankenstein on the screen and Hadley Fraser’s portrayal of the same character on the London stage – and I mean that in a good way. Fraser’s stage presence is, as ever, quite extraordinary, here stamping his own authority on the role, and Shuler Hensley is perfectly cast as Frankenstein’s ‘Monster’, utterly convincing in whatever state of mind his creator has programmed for him to be in. It’s Ross Noble as Igor that has the best comic timing and hilarious facial expressions – pictures that paint many words.

The emphasis is more on comedy than horror, which is just as well, as horror is difficult to portray on stage (even if The Woman in Black continues to spook audiences). It is one of those shows that is very, very shallow and silly, and knows it is. Some of the punchlines are rather like Christmas cracker jokes, that unite people in agreeing how bad they are instead of trying too hard to actually be funny.

Elsewhere, however, the feminists who have criticised the show have a point, and the silliness does indeed spill over into something less palatable. An example: in ‘He Vas My Boyfriend’ (and it is ‘Vas’ not ‘Was’, for Frau Blücher (Lesley Joseph) speaks in such a ‘vay’) there are lyrics such as, “He stabbed me with a kitchen knife” and “I vas the first thing that he’d hit”. Oh dear.

This musical finally comes into its own in an extended version of ‘Puttin’ On The Ritz’, which serves, in effect, as the eleven o’clock number, though the way in which the narrative is played out significantly mutes the audience applause at the song’s end. The choreography (Susan Stroman) is lively and energetic. The set is, unfortunately, more than a tad disappointing. It’s largely cheap and tacky, and I would have expected a higher standard for a West End show. Still, all things considered, there were some proper laugh-out-loud moments to savour in an unsubtle but nonetheless cheeky production.

Four stars

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