When Mel Brooks opened the musical version of The Producers, in 2001, the theater world went wild. The show won 12 Tonys, ran for six years and ushered in $400 and $500 seats. So Broadway had high hopes when, in 2007, Brooks opened the musical version of Young Frankenstein, his tribute to the 1930s movie adaptations of Mary Shelley's novel about a scientist creating new life from old corpses.
Perhaps the hopes were a little too high. The show opened to mixed reviews and closed after a mere 500 performances. Now, Pittsburgh Musical Theater presents the first local production, giving us the chance to make up our own minds.
Just as I don't think The Producers is as great as everyone says, I don't think Young Frankenstein is the substandard work rumor claims. It's exactly what you think it's going to be: a Mel Brooks gag-fest of familiar comedy tropes and punchlines, peppered with innocuous tunes. To expect more is silly.
As the show's director, PMT's Colleen Petrucci has gathered an impressive array of solid comedy performers. On physicality alone, no one in Pittsburgh but Tim Hartman could have been cast as the Monster; that he brings a delightful sense of anarchy only adds to his amusing performance. Andrea Weinzlierl and Lara Hayhurst, as the competing love interests, are really one-note characters, but play their notes with lots of humor. Frau Blucher is driven by an inner demon of warped lust that Tammy Townsend milks for every laugh possible. Quinn Patrick Shannon's Igor is manic and controlled, both feral and sophisticated. Playing Dr. Frederick Frankenstein, Trey Compton's stand-out performance is an homage to Gene Wilder (star and co-writer of the film); it's not a copy, but the neurotic impulses informing Wilder's performance also inform Compton's.
I will say there needs to be a rethink of the set. I salute PMT's goal of bringing affordable theater to local audiences, and of course there's only so much money. But there's also a law of diminishing returns, and it's hard to imagine a more diminished physical production than this one.
And that's a shame, because there's a lot of high-quality entertainment happening on it.