These days, the vast majority of new Broadway musicals are based not on original stories but on films. Rarely are they ever made from films that are actually any good. Of the 25 best comedy films of all time, as listed by the American Film Institute, only two have been made into Broadway musicals.
As it so happens, both were created by Mel Brooks.
One, The Producers, is ranked number 11. Number 13, with its own musical adaptation now running at the Spreckels Performing Arts Center, is the horror-comedy classic Young Frankenstein.
Directed with invention and clear affection by Gene Abravaya, Young Frankenstein raises the bar set by last winter's stirring Camelot, with solid dancing (choreography by Michella Snider), live orchestra (musical direction by Sandy and Richard Riccardi) and costumes (Pamela Enz) representing a high-water mark for the New Spreckels Theater Company.
The script, by Brooks and Thomas Meehan, stays mostly faithful to the beloved 1974 film. After the death of the notorious Transylvanian monster-maker Victor Frankenstein, his estate is deeded to his grandson, Dr. Frederick Frankenstein (Tim Setzer, replacing the manic energy of Gene Wilder with a grandly deteriorating sense of nobility).
After bidding farewell to his sexy but affection-phobic fiancée, Elizabeth (Denise Elia, very funny), Frederick visits his Grandfather's creepy castle, where he's soon surrounded by a demented troupe of Transylvanians: a humpbacked servant, Igor (the elastic-faced Jeffrey Weissman), the flirty would-be assistant Inga (Allison Rae Baker, hilarious), and the castle's housekeeper, Frau Blücher (cue horse whinny), played to mind-boggling perfection by Mary Gannon Graham, whose smutty love-song to the late Victor ("He Was My Boyfriend") just about killed the audience with laughter.
Also very funny are John Shillington as the outrageously accented Inspector Kemp and a lonely blind hermit who prays for a friend, and Braedyn Youngberg as the monster, whom Frederick and crew eventually create, causing all sorts of problems for the locals.
All of the favorite gags and lines from the film are here, from "big knockers" to "What hump?"; several ("Care for a roll in the hay?") have been turned into big splashy songs. Frequently tasteless and packed with bad puns, campy situations and groan-inducing silliness, Young Frankenstein is a breezy resurrection of a beloved classic. Like Inspector Kemp's artificial limbs, it doesn't all work, but it definitely gets the job done.
Rating (out of 5): ★★★★