“Young Frankenstein,” Mel Brooks’ 1974 parody of classic monster movies starring Gene Wilder and Peter Boyle, is so sublimely wonderful it’s hard to imagine anyone tinkering with it.
Anyone, that is, but Brooks himself. Following the success of his musical version of “The Producers,” Brooks embarked on a second musical, based on “Young Frankenstein,” with his own lyrics and music and a book by Brooks and “The Producers” collaborator Thomas Meehan.
The 2007 musical is being revived at the Mercury Theater, and it’s a joyful production. Not all the tunes are memorable, not all the gags land, and you miss many bits that were in the movie. But the talented cast sells every song and bawdy joke for all they’re worth, and you’ll have a good, silly time.
Directed by executive producer L. Walter Stearns, the Mercury production stars the versatile Sean Fortunato as Frederick Frankenstein (“pronounced Franken-steen”), grandson of the infamous scientist. Young Frankenstein returns to the ancestral home to claim his inheritance, declaring he wants nothing to do with his grandfather’s grisly experiments. But he quickly changes his mind, and with the help of his busty assistant Inga (Isabella Andrews), formidable housekeeper Frau Blücher (Mary Robin Roth) and wisecracking servant Igor (Ryan Stajmiger), summons up another Creature (Andrew MacNaughton).
The songs are in Tin Pan Alley-style and are sometimes derivative—for example, Dr. Frankenstein’s ode to “The Brain” in the first act sounds a lot like “Shy” from “Once Upon a Mattress.” But the lyrics are funny, so this is forgiven. For example, “His medulla oblongata/Tells his brain stem that it’s gotta/Send an impulse full of data/Which creates a lotta pain.”
“Deep Love,” sung by MacNaughton and the marvelous Lillian Castillo as Elizabeth, skips the wit and goes straight for the smut. Yet it’s performed so well by Castillo and MacNaughton, it works as a romantic ballad.
It’s hard to pick a standout in this cast and chorus, but you can start with Castillo, who plays Frankenstein’s fiancée as an adorable narcissist. Before finding “Deep Love,” she’s avoiding it with “Please Don’t Touch Me,” accompanied by an ensemble that manages to ballroom dance without contact.
Also excellent are Roth, who performs “He Vas My Boyfriend” using a chair in the style of Bob Fosse, and Jonah D. Winston as Inspector Kemp. Callan Roberts, an understudy who played the Hermit at the October 19 show, did a touching, goofy performance of “Someone,” expressing his yearning for a friend.
MacNaughton is terrific as the creature, especially in the “Puttin’ on the Ritz” showstopper, when he swans about like Fred Astaire in platform boots. Ryan Stajmiger as Igor (“that’s pronounced Eye-gor”) steals every scene he’s in.
Fortunato wisely does not attempt to be Gene Wilder, because who could? A fine singer and dancer, Fortunato’s take on the character works well for this production—a sexy, gangly nerd in Bill-Nye-the-Science-Guy vein, bowled over by the attractions of both Andrews and science.
The dancing, choreographed by Brenda Didier, was a delight throughout, despite the relatively small stage. So is the music, directed by Eugene Dizon, and the sound by Kurt Snieckus, particularly in the amplified roar of the monster.
The slapstick could use tightening, such as when Frankenstein uses charades to spell out “sedative”: he doesn’t seem in real peril. This will likely get addressed during the show’s run through the end of the year. The long run is a good thing, because you may want to see this one twice.
“Young Frankenstein” at Mercury Theater, 3745 North Southport, through December 31. Tickets available here.