Make no mistake about it: Mel Brooks is a dirty old man. And since his very funny film Young Frankenstein he’s gotten ever dirtier and older. What was raunchy but amusing in 1974 is simply repeated louder and cruder in this 2007 Broadway version, currently spending two weeks at the Aronoff Center for the Arts.
Victor Frankenstein (Christopher Ryan), the namesake grandson of the mad scientist who explored “the reanimation of dead tissue,” returns to Transylvania to claim his inheritance. The successful medical researcher departs from 1934 Manhattan with his chilly, leave-me-alone fiancée (Janine Divita) to find his family roots. He meets Igor, a loopy hunchbacked assistant (Cory English); Frau Blucher (Joanna Glushak), a mysteriously arch keeper of the creepy castle laboratory; and the buxom Inga (Synthia Link), who becomes his oh-so-willing lab assistant.
Unfortunately, Brooks and this hard-working, talented cast reanimate neither tissue nor dead Vaudeville humor. The transplant of Catskills humor to Transylvania is no more successful than plugging an abnormal brain into a giant body.
The only sign of contemporary creativity in Young Frankenstein is another grab from the film, when Frankenstein and his Monster dance to Irving Berlin’s “Puttin’ on the Ritz.” Thanks to director and choreographer Susan Stroman, the number becomes a visually inventive and dazzling sequence of shadows, strobes and physical showmanship, punctuated by the inarticulate singing Monster.
The rest of Young Frankenstein gets laughs with endless jokes about boobs and erections while blasting us with forgettable music. Brooks, who composes by humming and then having someone transcribe the tunes, made this work with The Producers, his award-winning 2001 show, but all he’s doing here is trying to bring that formula back to life. I’m sad to report that it’s dead on arrival.
YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN, presented by Broadway Across America, continues through Nov. 28 at the Aronoff Center for the Arts downtown. Buy tickets, check out performance times and get venue details here.