Tag Archives: Mel Brooks

An Absolute Scream


Garrick Theatre, London, Saturday 28th October, 2017


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Mel Brooks’s seminal comedy film comes to the West End in this musical adaptation that stitches together the best of the movie with some cracking new material.  Brooks has an ear for a good tune and the score, which he wrote along with the lyrics, is chockful of catchy melodies and sophisticated, witty rhymes.  Brooks’s sense of the inappropriate is also undiminished: a chorus of women sing proudly about their tits, a blind man inflicts pain… Aficionados of the film will not be disappointed and newcomers to the material are in for a wild and wacky treat.

Hadley Fraser stars as Frederick Frankenstein (Fronkensteen) combining good looks with manic intensity, like a matinee idol on crack.  The man is hilarious and has a clear musical-theatre tenor that means he can belt above the chorus.  Like the machinery in his grandfather’s laboratory, we can see the cogs working in Frederick’s mind.  Fraser is expertly matched by Ross Noble as the hunchback Igor.  Noble’s rolling eyes, stooped posture and incessant gurning evoke something of the great Marty Feldman who originated the role, while permitting us to see Noble is a superb comic performer in his own right.  And who knew he could sing so well?

Summer Strallen is effortlessly sublime as Inga, stretching her accent as well as her legs, while Dianne Pilkington is an absolute scream as Frederick’s fiancée Elizabeth.  Everyone is at the top of their game.  There is strong support from Patrick Clancy doubling as Inspector Kemp and the blind hermit; Shuler Hensley’s Monster is the gift that keeps on giving in a towering performance; but the revelation of the piece is Lesley Joseph’s Frau Blucher, surely the role she was born to play.


She has her knockers but I think Lesley Joseph is great

Highlights?  The show is one big highlight from start to finish.  Putting on the Ritz turns into an all-out production number with the chorus hoofing in Frankenstein boots, brilliantly lit by Ben Cracknell, bringing Hollywood glamour to his palette of old movie spotlights and colour washes.  Beowulf Boritt’s set uses traditional painted backcloths that heighten the theatricality of the piece while hearkening back to the old movie sets.  The atmosphere is perfect.  Director/choreographer Susan Stroman doesn’t miss a trick to bring out every laugh, every campy turn of phrase or reaction, giving us what is quite possibly the funniest musical ever.

The breast jokes betray the show’s 1970s origins but Brooks is right to keep them in – the master of comedy, he knows how to give us a frisson.  There would be something wrong if we approved of everything and this is how Brooks tests us, pushing at our comfort levels, showing us where our boundaries are and, above all, making us laugh out loud and long.

A great big monster hit.


Hay there! Hadley Fraser and Ross Noble



Putting the Hit in Hitler


New Theatre, Oxford, Saturday 4th July, 2015


There are many musicals around that originated as films. This is surely the best of such a bunch – mainly because the source material is so good but also because the original writer, Mel Brooks, made the adaptation himself including writing the songs. In his films, Brooks’s songs are invariably parodies but here he gives us a ‘proper’ Broadway score – heavily drenched in humour, of course.

The plot involves hopeless Broadway producer Max Bialystock (Cory English in the role he was born for) who teams up with hyper-neurotic accountant Leo Bloom (stand-up comic Jason Manford – a revelation!) to engineer a surefire misfire of a show in order to make off with a million dollars apiece. They search for the worst script, hire the worst director and raise the funds via Bialystock’s sideline as a gigolo for the old ladies of New York. The show they produce is a ‘gay romp’ about Adolf Hitler. The show is non-stop funny and gives not a hoot for political correctness. And the score is heaving with catchy tunes and witty lyrics.

As Bialystock, English is a powerhouse, hurling himself around the stage. You’ll never see a funnier heart attack. His number about betrayal treats us to a manic, potted recap of the entire show that is a wonder and a joy to behold.

Jason Manford surprises with his characterisation of the tightly wound Bloom and his singing voice. I come away thoroughly impressed; he should do more musical theatre.

As the flamboyant director Roger De Bris, David Bedella is utterly fabulous, camper than all your Christmases come at once, twinkling and striking poses. De Bris’s portrayal of the Fuhrer is an absolute hoot – Brooks is big on mocking Hitler and the Nazis as a strong weapon against Fascism. If we make fun of tyrants we diminish their power. If we hold them up for lampoonery, we undermine their position. The show-within-the show, Springtime For Hitler is a lot of fun. Glittering swastikas and chorines dressed as Panzer tanks are just the icing on the cake of this festival of bad taste.

As crazed playwright Franz Liebkind, our most surreal stand-up Ross Noble makes his musical theatre debut in a high-energy performance that is as hilarious as it is scary. Wildly staring, shouting and stomping, Liebkind is the swivel-eyed right wing lunatic of today, rewriting the past, bullying others into his point of view – the kind of person that deserves only ridicule. Noble is superbly committed to this larger-than-life caricature and I would love to see him tackle other, perhaps subtler roles.

Tiffany Graves’s vowel-mangling Swedish actress, dancer and receptionist Ulla wrings comedy out of every pout, wiggle and demonstration of the splits. What’s funny is the men’s reactions in a comic tradition that goes back to the Ancient Greeks where human foibles, like lust (and greed) are held up for derision.

There is energetic support from a lively and versatile chorus. The laughs keep coming but there is also, in true musical style, a moment of emotional revelation and a happy ending. Brooks celebrates the genre while poking fun. The result is an unalloyed delight.

Jason Manford and Cory English producing the goods (Photo: Manuel Harlan)

Jason Manford and Cory English producing the goods (Photo: Manuel Harlan)