The horses whinny every time they hear the name of Frau Blucher. Igor's hump shifts from side to side on his back. And Dr. Frederick Frankenstein — that's "Fronken-shteen" — asks on the train platform, "Pardon me, boy, is this the Transylvania station?"
All the much-loved shtick from Young Frankenstein, the classic Mel Brooks movie comedy from 1974, is in the musical adapted from it, and maybe that's the problem. Or maybe Brooks should have made the musical in black and white, which was so integral to the movie's spoof of 1930s horror films.
Familiarity with the material is something of a double-edged sword in the musical Young Frankenstein. Most of the crowd of 1,634 were howling at Tuesday's opening performance by the touring company at Ruth Eckerd Hall. But you could see the gags coming from a mile away, such as Frederick's pleas to Inga to "Put the candle back" to stop the whirling bookcase. The hermit spills hot soup in the monster's lap and burns his thumb, exactly as he does in the movie. Brooks' preoccupation with the size of the monster's member is as obsessive as ever in Elizabeth's torch song Deep Love.
Young Frankenstein reunited most of Brooks' creative team from The Producers, including book writer Thomas Meehan and director-choreographer Susan Stroman, and their show is loaded with witty homages to old movie musicals, such as the anti-Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers number, Please Don't Touch Me, and Igor (Cory English) doing a spot-on Jimmy Durante in his duet with Frederick, Together Again. There's a clever bow to Hamlet when the ghost of Frederick's grandfather, Victor (Erick R. Walck), materializes in Join the Family Business, which features a giant puppet. Designer William Ivey Long's inventive horse costumes are terrific.
But for all its delights, Young Frankenstein falls a bit flat, in part because its leading man, Christopher Ryan, is so uninteresting as Frederick, the brain specialist from New York who travels to Transylvania to wash his hands of his grandfather's legendary laboratory but gets other ideas when he falls under the spell of Castle Frankenstein, not to mention the charms of blond, well-endowed Inga (Synthia Link). Ryan is a proficient, workmanlike performer, and that is precisely wrong for the role of Frederick, which calls for a mad genius. The rest of the casting is better, with English's Igor and the Frau Blucher of Joanna Glushak being suitably demented. David Benoit pulls double duty as both Inspector Kemp and the lonely, blind hermit.
The highlight of the show comes in Act 2 with Puttin' on the Ritz, as the 7-foot, green-skinned monster (Preston Truman Boyd) and Frederick perform a snappy top-hat-and-cane duet to the Irving Berlin standard, a flashy affair that takes full advantage of Stroman's leggy chorus line. But it's all downhill from there, as the show struggles to tie up loose ends and consummate the romance of the monster and Elizabeth (Janine Divita).
The tour production is rather cheap looking, with most of the budget seeming to have gone for strobe lights (especially striking in Puttin' on the Ritz) and electric sound effects for the laboratory. But there is a good-sized orchestra in the pit to do some justice to Brooks' valentine to show business.
John Fleming can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8716.