Young Frankenstein; The week’s other openings; and A strike shuts down Broadway

Young Frankenstein; The week’s other openings; and A strike shuts down Broadway

Young Frankenstein

Hilton Theater, New York

(212) 307-4100

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Mel Brooks’ musical version of The Producers was so successful that whatever he did next was guaranteed to seem disappointing, said Charles McNulty in the Los Angeles Times. “Not every musical adaptation can win a record-breaking 12 Tonys and become the hot ticket among the pay-anything expense-account crowd.” Still, I was hoping for more from Brooks’ musical adaptation of his 1974 film Young Frankenstein. One of the few Broadway shows unaffected by the current stagehands strike, it should be a financial success. But Brooks and director Susan Stroman have failed to reimagine this material for the stage, so the evening is often reduced to gags familiar from the movie. “We enter wanting to bust a gut, so no wonder we’re a little let down when we leave with only a nostalgic grin.” It’s not that the show isn’t funny, said Peter Marks in The Washington Post. “It’s Mel Brooks, for goodness’ sake, so of course you laugh.” But Young Frankenstein seems so eager to please that it forgets to make any sense, and it’s “such a teeter-tottering patchwork of slipshod gags, recycled dance routines, and tinny tunes that even some of the better material ends up feeling a bit shrill and hollow.” You have to feel sorry for the performers forced to step into roles made famous by other actors. Poor Roger Bart is stuck with Gene Wilder’s role of the doctor Freddy Frankenstein. The right performer here could help unify the disorganized antics going on all around. Instead, Bart is “scattered, lackluster,” and weirdly subdued. Often Bart “seems more of a supporting player than the supporting players,” said Linda Winer in Newsday. Megan Mullally does better stepping into Madeline Kahn’s role as Frankenstein’s “frigid fiancée.” Though the actress gained fame on TV’s Will & Grace, “her dare-me diva gusto and primal vocal belt” make her a natural for the stage. Likewise, Sutton Foster, as the dizzy blond lab assistant, makes us temporarily forget Teri Garr’s film performance. But the show’s best moments come from Andrea Martin’s creepy housekeeper, Frau Blucher, and Shuler Hensley’s Monster. Hensley’s “blissfully funny” rendition of Irving Berlin’s “Puttin’ on the Ritz” is a showstopper, just as Peter Boyle’s was in the movie. Unfortunately, listening to Berlin’s catchy tunes and classy lyrics also reminds you of what’s missing from the rest of Mel Brooks’ musical.

The week’s other openings

Washington, D.C.Current Nobody

Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company

(202) 393-3939

“Melissa James Gibson’s wise and heartsome—if occasionally precious— new play” updates Homer’s Odyssey for the age of latchkey kids, said Peter Marks in The Washington Post. The classical allusions are a bit cutesy, but Christina Kirk and Casie Platt shine as a gallivanting career woman and her estranged daughter.


The Sparrow

Apollo Theater

(773) 935-6100

“There’s nothing ironic, cynical, or self-aware about” this quirky tale of high school tragedy and its supernatural sequel, said Chris Jones in the Chicago Tribune. An optimistic spirit makes The Sparrow that rarest of things—a “wholly original show” with theatrical smarts but no theatrical ego.

San Francisco

The Rainmaker

American Conservatory Theater

(415) 749-2228

Richard Nash’s “lightly comic feel-good drama” from 1954 isn’t high art, said Robert Hurwitt in the San Francisco Chronicle. But the ACT cast captures its fable-like essence. Geordie Johnson, as the con man who intrudes on a drought-stricken farmer’s family, and René Augesen, as the plain daughter he romances, make “almost every moment count, to humorous and touching effect.”

A strike shuts down Broadway

A strike by stagehands has darkened Broadway, said Philip Boroff in The action temporarily shuttered 27 shows, as actors, ushers, and members of other Broadway unions have refused to cross picket lines. Producers say that under current work rules, they must hire workers even when there’s not enough work to do. But stagehands have refused to sacrifice job guarantees without receiving other concessions. Negotiations broke down last week, and no new talks were scheduled. With the strike costing the local economy an estimated $17 million a day, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has offered to mediate talks. But the offer was turned down by union president James Claffey Jr., who said producers were not negotiating in good faith. “We have made compromises,” Claffey said. “It’s just never enough.” The strike was timed for the height of New York’s tourist season, said Joe Dziemianowicz in the New York Daily News. “Tourists are the lifeblood of Broadway—they bought 65 percent of tickets last year.” While eight Broadway shows operating under a different labor agreement remain open, the effects of the strike were quickly felt at restaurants and other businesses that cater to theatergoers. Some shuttered shows, meanwhile, may never return. Few Broadway productions are moneymakers even in the best of times. For those just breaking even, “a strike that goes on for more than a few days can be a death blow.”

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