Filichia Features: Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein is ALIVE – in the West End!

Filichia Features: Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein is ALIVE – in the West End!

Given that comedy thrives in small, tight spaces - which is why Neil Simon had his non-musicals usually play in theaters of approximately 1,000 seats -- should a musical comedy that relied on comedy as much as music have been booked into Broadway's biggest theater?

Mel Brooks' Young Frankenstein didn't run as long as expected at the 1,938-seat Hilton (now the Lyric). Simply too big? Laughter gets lost in a too-big barn.

Now, the show has found a home in London. The Garrick, with 732 seats, is cozy-comfortable for a parody of a horror movie. If you've feared your theater was too small to accommodate this "big" show, think again.

After all, this is a parody of films that virtually prided themselves on their frightfully low budgets and modest production values, so an Ed-Wooden ambiance will serve.

Indeed, consider a black-and-white-and-gray palette (not that director-choreographer Susan Stroman did). Painting your set and costuming everyone in those three colors will further ally it with Brooks' original 1974 Young Frankenstein film.

Sure, having an exotic laboratory with apparatus to spare is always fun, but you really can get by if you merely have a gurney on which Monster, as it's chummily called, can come to life.

When Brooks first decided to musicalize The Producers, he asked Jerry Herman to write the score. Herman encouraged Brooks to do it all himself, which he did. Here, too. Both sound Hermanish but with an added wink and with tongue-in-cheek. You audience accustomed to that Golden-Age-of-Broadway sound will welcome it.

Thus, you'll need a song-and-dance man as Frederick Frankenstein, who's ashamed that his grandfather tried to bring a corpse back to life -- until he has the same chance. In London, Hadley Fraser wields his classroom pointer as well as he would a show-biz cane. It's a harbinger of the snazzy hat-'n'-cane number he'll do later in the show.

Frederick's in love with Elizabeth, who deters him with her frigid manifesto "Please Don't Touch Me." It leads to a polka which won't be hard for your leads - because the two never touch while they dance. (Dancing with no one is much easier than maneuvering or responding to a partner.)

However, many genuine choreographic opportunities arise. "Together Again for the First Time" uses dance steps worthy of Dainty June and Her Farmboys. And in the grand musical theater tradition of dances that everyone is supposedly doing -- "The Varsity Drag," "The Spanish Panic" and "The Time Warp" -- "Do the Transylvania Mania" earns its place among them.

If you have a glamorous actress with a big ego, she'll be a great Elizabeth. Otherwise, this is a feast for character actors. For Frau Blucher, get a performer who can do the Kurt Weillish "He Vas My Boyfriend." Sign a lass for Inga who can annoyingly yodel for incessant measure upon measure -- and find a good hump for Igor, Frederick's eccentric helper.

Monster is a great role for a high-school sports star with no experience but one who has an urge to get on stage. All Monster is required to do for much of the show is grunt and, at the end of Act One, escape into the audience and "scare" theatergoers, which your performer should enjoy.

After an hour-and-a-half of grunting, he or she will feel comfortable enough to utter an occasional "Puttin' on the Ritz!" in the big production number. The dance needn't threaten your novice. Only Frederick and the ensemble will need to tap well.

When the show is nearly done, Monster will be called on to deliver a few lines. By that time, Monster will have acquired enough stage dust on his or her feet to be ready to speak. And won't the audience be delighted to hear erudite dialogue emerge from Monster's mouth?

However, if your Monster turns out to have stage fright, one of those all-encompassing Frankenstein Monster masks readily found in souvenir and joke shops will solve the problem.

Those who've worked at Telecharge have told me that people who call often say "What show is really funny?" Young Frankenstein certainly is. If your theater performs on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, this is the ideal weekend show for people who want an escape - even if it's to Transylvania.


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You may e-mail Peter at Check out his weekly column each Monday at and Tuesday at . His book, The Great Parade: Broadway's Astonishing, Never-To-Be Forgotten 1963-1964 Season is now available at