Garrick Theatre, London, Saturday 28th October, 2017
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.
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.