I’ve seen the movie “Young Frankenstein” a couple of times. I thought it was funny, and I remember laughing a lot. But I don’t have the jokes memorized. I can’t recite Gene Wilder’s lines. On road trips I don’t break into renditions of the Monster singing “Puttin’ on the Ritz.”
Perhaps I’m just not the target audience for “Young Frankenstein” the musical, which opened Tuesday night at the Saroyan Theatre.
The singers in this production are good, the acting peppy, the timing impeccable, the production values commensurate with some of the higher-budget national tours that have come through town. Yes, I chuckled here and there throughout. And there were several bits that produced hearty laughter on my part, including an over-the-top “Ritz” number and a very amusing rendition of the song “Deep Love” by the Madeline Kahn-inspired character. Plus I got a kick out of some of the audience members around me who were obviously anticipating famous jokes and riffs from the movie.
But outright hilarity? Not so much. This isn’t a show like “The Producers,” which stood on its own without the film version as a prerequisite. And it isn’t as successful as the much funnier “Spamalot,” another musical paying homage to a beloved comic film that requires a familiarity with the source material. There is a flatness to the “Young Frankenstein” experience, a feeling of obligation, as if the narrative is ticking off a series of boxes rather than catapulting us through a comic romp.
A big part of the problem, I think, is the music. Besides “Deep Love” and “Ritz” (which of course was written by Irving Berlin), the songs just didn’t resonate for me. Mel Brooks hit gold when he wrote the music for “The Producers” — a feat that shocked trained composers. He lost that shine with “Young Frankenstein.”
A.J. Holmes is a solid Dr. Frankenstein in this non-Equity national tour, hitting his vocals, dance moves and comic routines with warmth and flair. Pat Sibley is a standout as Frau Blucher, and Elizabeth Pawlowski brings a sly, sweet sexiness to the role of Inga. Christopher Timson works hard as an effective Igor.
Some of the stage effects from Susan Stroman’s original direction in the Saroyan are impressive, from a puppet-inspired massive construction of the Monster in a dream sequence to an inspired hay ride to the castle complete with two “horses.” And Stroman’s choreography is performed with crisp precision.
But aside from a few comic gems — I loved the blind Hermit (Britt Hancock)’s routine with the Monster (Rory Donovan) while trying to light a cigar — I didn’t connect on either a comic or emotional level. For me, “Young Frankenstein” wasn’t much of a jolt.