Hayes Theatre, February 24
Young Frankenstein is like a rickety slatted bridge, with hilarity the destination and the bottomless abyss of inanity always lurking beneath. Time and time again, a slat breaks, we plunge into silliness, and claw for a grip on the bridge of laughs. Anyone who enjoyed Mel Brooks’ 1976 film of the same name knows what to expect: Blazing Saddles with less wind, more songs and a Transylvanian monster.
Brooks, among the great American creators of stage and screen comedy, always had an inner eight-year-old itching to lace his scripts with whiffs of toilet humour or spots of sexual innuendo. Virtually all his work traverses that same rickety bridge, and while I have a high silliness threshold (perhaps that of a nine- rather than an eight-year-old?), it was still tested.
But Young Frankenstein (for which Brooks the music and lyrics, and co-wrote the book with Thomas Meehan) is also ripe with laughs, and director Alexander Berlage and his cast maximise most of them, add a few of their own, and try to ensure the silly bits still entertain. Berlage certainly had time to think about it. His creative team first assembled last March, and then you-know-what happened, and of course the production was buried – if not quite dead. Now it springs back to life as the Hayes’ first post-pandemic production, and that in itself is marvellous: Sydney is poorer without this little musical theatre crucible, and returning with a show that wears its daftness as a badge of honour was probably apt.
Whether aided by the delay or not, Isabel Hudson’s set design is a thing of wonder. Its fantasia of staircases are as busy going nowhere as those in an MC Escher lithograph. It even has upside-down staircases that echo the battlements of the castle once inhabited by Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and now inherited – like his love of animating corpses – by his grandson (Matthew Backer). Needless to say, the experiment goes horribly wrong, but, this being a comedy, the monster (Nick Eynaud) is tamed by the joy of sex with Frankenstein’s fiancee (Shannon Dooley), and further curbed by receiving a quotient of Frankenstein’s intelligence. Thus the carnage is contained, even if the villagers are left hungry for a hanging.
Backer catches something of that goofy Gene Wilder charm and sings his socks off when required – as does Dooley, who works Elizabeth into such a lather of sexuality that she can make a climax out of just pulling on a thigh-high boot. Eynaud is a hulking monster who can still milk his brief, inevitable moment of pathos, and Ben Gerrard cross-dresses to charming effect as Inga, the super-blond lab assistant who is up for more than one sort of experiment. Lucia Mastrantone brings such consummate comic timing and intonation to Frau Blucher, Frankenstein’s house-keeper, as to steal all her scenes, and Amy Hack and Olivia Charalambous are amusing in the minor roles. Luke Leong-Tay is currently a weak link as Igor, the requisite hunchback, which he could address by sticking to one accent and ensuring his ham is sandwiched by wafers of truth.
It’s not a big dance show, but Yvette Lee’s choreography is made to prosper on what Hudson’s set leaves of the little stage, Mason Browne’s costumes are fun, and Andrew Worboys does a typically expert job of shrinking the score to something manageable by a sextet, although unfortunately the band was too prominent in the mix, obscuring some lyrics.
Until March 20.