“Young Frankenstein” plays better in the Pantages Theater than Mel Brooks’ first legit smash, “The Producers.” Everything about the show is bigger — the sets, the jokes, the dance numbers, the decolletage — and musically more conventional than “The Producers,” making it a perfect road show for big houses such as the Pantages. Roger Bart, who created the Dr. Frankenstein role on Broadway in late 2007, continues to sparkle as the lead, whether hoofing, playing the straight man or eliciting laughs with his charming deadpan asides.
Brooks crafted “Young Frankenstein” to hew closely to the 1974 film, the standard movie-to-musical formula, adding the doctor’s grandfather as a character while retaining the film’s hallmarks — the bookcase, the knockers, the blind man and, of course, “Ah! Sweet Mystery of Life.” Plenty of the 36-year-old jokes remain knee-slappers.
Musically, it’s steeped in classic showtune vernacular: “Puttin’ on the Ritz” is not just a show-stopper here, as it was in the film; it’s part of the inspiration behind the score; this is an old-fashioned musical at heart. Early in the first act, “The Brain” touches on “There Is Nothin’ Like a Dame,” and Inga (Anne Horak) gets brassy and sassy with “Roll in the Hay,” telegraphing the notion that there will be no surprises in this show — it’s structured like a 1950s classic, but with more boob jokes.
The show lasted on Broadway for more than a year, and its bookings on the road have been quite conservative — Los Angeles only has it for two weeks. Fortunately, it appears the producers have not scrimped a bit in presenting a jolly monster of a show.
Where “The Producers” got across its humor with nudges and winks (which often did not play beyond the first 30 rows during its Pantages run), “Young Frankenstein” crashes in with bombast and electricity.
Dance numbers, especially “Puttin’ on the Ritz” with an army of tap-dancing monsters, provide visual razzle-dazzle to complement the oversized laboratory and the overstuffed characters, played to the hilt by a cast composed largely of actors new to their roles.
Maintaining a hectic pace from the get-go does pay a price at the end. Beyond the relationship between the Doctor and Inga, there’s little warmth among the characters. The vibrant Cory English milks the laughs as he bounces about the stage as Igor; Joanna Glushak keeps her Frau Blucher cold and intimidating; Frankenstein’s fiance, Elizabeth (Beth Curry), is given songs but little heart; and the transformation of the Monster (Shuler Hensley) lacks the tenderness of the Gene Wilder-Peter Boyle bond in the film. That Bart and Horak are so likable goes a long way toward making “Young Frankenstein” a success.