Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Theater feature: Take it from Mel: 'Young Frankenstein' is a 'damn good' show

Synthia Link,‭ ‬Christopher Ryan,‭ ‬Cory English,‭ ‬Joanna Glushak and Preston Truman Boyd in Young Frankenstein,‭ ‬opening today at the Kravis Center.


By Hap Erstein


If he does say so himself,‭ ‬and he does,‭ ‬Mel Brooks considers‭ ‬Young Frankenstein to be the best of the‭ ‬12‭ ‬films he has directed.

‭“‬I’m not saying it’s my funniest,‭ ‬I’m saying it’s my best.‭ ‬In terms of my art,‭ ‬let’s say,‭ ‬as a filmmaker,‭” ‬he explains by phone from his production offices in Culver City,‭ ‬Calif.‭ “‬It’s certainly my best work as a filmmaker,‭ ‬because it captures the story on film better than any other of my films,‭ ‬including‭ ‬‘The Producers,‭’‬ ‘Blazing Saddles,‭’‬ ‘History of the World‭’‬ or any of them.‭”

That is not to say that‭ ‬Young Frankenstein is his favorite.‭ “‬Um,‭ ‬no.‭ ‬Maybe‭ ‬‘Life Stinks‭’‬ is my favorite,‭” ‬he offers.‭ “‬Choosing a favorite is hard.‭ ‬I don’t know,‭ ‬did Picasso step back and say,‭ ‘‬It’s the one where I put the two eyes on one side of the nose‭’? ‬You know what I mean‭? ‬I don’t know that the artist really has a perspective that counts.‭ ‬But I think it’s my finest artistic work.‭”

Yes,‭ ‬Brooks did just compare himself to Pablo Picasso.‭ ‬Never let it be said that he has a problem with low self-esteem.

With his affection for‭ ‬Young Frankenstein,‭ ‬it is not that surprising that it was supposed to be Brooks‭’ ‬first film to be musicalized for the Broadway stage.‭ “‬Yeah,‭ ‬I wanted to go to‭ ‬‘Young Frankenstein‭’‬ first,‭ ‬but it didn’t have enough songs in it,‭” ‬he says.‭ “‬With‭ ‬‘The Producers,‭’‬ I already had two great tunes.‭ ‬I had‭ ‬‘Prisoners of Love‭’‬ and I had‭ ‬‘Springtime for Hitler,‭’‬ which was such a big part of the evening.‭”

The Producers,‭ ‬of course,‭ ‬was a colossal hit on Broadway,‭ ‬winning‭ ‬12‭ ‬Tony Awards,‭ ‬more than any show before or since.‭ ‬According to Brooks,‭ ‬though,‭ ‬such success has a downside.‭ ‬Six years later,‭ ‬when he opened‭ ‬Young Frankenstein in New York,‭ ‬he insists the critics were gunning for him.

‭ “‬I said,‭ ‘‬I’ll be shot down,‭ ‬because they put you on a mountain peak,‭ ‬and you are a perfect target,‭ ‬for whatever you do next.‭’ ‬That’s the way Broadway works.‭ ‬But we got enough good reviews.‭ ‬And we got enough wanna-see that for the first six months,‭ ‬we were in incredible profit.‭ ‬It did very well.‭”

Actually,‭ ‬Brooks long refused to disclose the weekly box office grosses for‭ ‬Young Frankenstein,‭ ‬so we will never really know whether it turned a profit on Broadway,‭ ‬though it seems unlikely.‭ ‬Still,‭ ‬he is quick to mention,‭ “‬It’s doing,‭ ‬I must say,‭ ‬very,‭ ‬very well on the road.‭ ‬It’s attracting people,‭ ‬and I’ve got to say,‭ ‬every time I’ve seen it,‭ ‬it’s been standing ovations.‭ ‬I mean,‭ ‬without bragging.‭”

The national tour of‭ ‬Young Frankenstein,‭ ‬which‭ ‬opens today at West Palm Beach’s Kravis Center‭ ‬and runs‭ ‬this week through Sunday,‭ ‬is nothing if not lavish.‭ ‬Even in comparison to‭ ‬The Producers.‭ “‬’The Producers‭’ ‬cost about‭ ‬10‭ (‬million dollars‭) ‬and this one cost closer to‭ ‬15,‭” ‬he says with paternal pride.‭ “‬That’s a lot of money.‭ ‬Now that’s nothing like the‭ ‬65‭ ‬million dollars that‭ ‬‘Spider-Man‭’‬ is supposed to cost,‭ ‬but that was a lot of money in those days,‭ ‬$14-plus million dollars.‭ ‬I think it ran‭ ‬14‭ ‬months on Broadway,‭ ‬so a million for every month.‭ ‬That’s a pretty damn good run.‭”

Young Frankenstein was not reviewed very favorably on Broadway,‭ ‬but at least Brooks can console himself that another show was reviewed worse.‭ “‬Now‭ ‬‘The Addams Family,‭’‬ for instance,‭ ‬is running on Broadway.‭ ‬No musical in the history of Broadway ever got such bad reviews,‭ ‬from‭ ‬‘The New York Times‭’‬ to the subway free press.‭ ‬It was pretty unanimous that this was the worst musical comedy ever,‭ ‬ever written.‭”

Yet,‭ ‬he notes,‭ ‬it remains popular with audiences,‭ ‬often selling out all seats.‭ “‬You can’t keep people away from it and I think the magic is probably‭ ‬--‭ ‬the secret between you,‭ ‬me and the world‭ ‬--‭ ‬is Nathan Lane.‭ ‬He’s just too magnetic and too talented.‭ ‬I don’t care what the thing is all about,‭ ‬if Nathan does his stuff,‭ ‬you’re going to get your money’s worth.‭”

Young Frankenstein has had no such star power,‭ ‬on Broadway or on the road.‭ ‬Still,‭ ‬Brooks insists,‭ ‬it deserves culinary praise.‭ “‬ ‘Young Frankenstein‭’‬ is an appetizer,‭ ‬it’s soup,‭ ‬it’s salad,‭ ‬a main course.‭ ‬It’s a thrilling dessert and maybe an Irish coffee or a great espresso.‭ ‬It’s really a satisfying,‭ ‬ethereal,‭ ‬emotional,‭ ‬psychological meal.‭ ‬It’s a whole meal.‭ ‬You feel sated.‭ ‬When you leave that show,‭ ‬you pat your mind instead of your belly,‭ ‬and you say,‭ ‘‬That was good.‭’ ”

At‭ ‬84,‭ ‬Brooks is clearly relishing his new career as the king of Broadway,‭ ‬feeling there is nothing so enjoyable as having a hit show there.‭ “‬No,‭ ‬nothing at all.‭ ‬Because it takes‭ ‬18‭ ‬months to two years before a thought in your mind becomes a movie,‭” ‬he explains.‭ “‬And you’ve gone through so much and finally,‭ ‬you’re sitting in the dark and there’s no visceral connection with the people on the screen.

‭“‬But on Broadway,‭ ‬or on a stage anywhere,‭ ‬there’s that kinetic and visceral connection.‭ ‬You feel it.‭ ‬You literally get goosebumps.‭ ‬When somebody hits a high note and it resonates,‭ ‬you’re ready to cry or laugh.‭ ‬It’s a very different emotional thing.

‭“‬I feel like walking up and down the aisles when my music plays and saying,‭ ‘‬By the way folks,‭ ‬that’s an octave.‭ ‬I jumped a whole octave then.‭’ ‬But I’m not allowed to do that.‭ ‬The ushers feel I’m interfering with the show.‭”

It has long been rumored that‭ ‬Blazing Saddles is next in line to receive a Brooksian transfer to the musical stage.‭ ‬True,‭ ‬Mel‭?

“Well,‭ ‬it’s running around in my mind.‭ ‬I don’t know if it will ever come out,‭” ‬he concedes.‭ “‬But I like thinking about it,‭ ‬I like ruminating on what the songs might be.‭ ‬I’d like to celebrate the glory of the Western,‭ ‬too.‭”

But for the moment,‭ ‬he is too busy enjoying‭ ‬Young Frankenstein and urging theatergoers to do whatever it takes to acquire tickets to it.‭

“It’s such a damn good musical.‭ ‬If there’s a little old lady in front of you at the box office and they’re running out of tickets,‭ ‬push her aside,‭” ‬he instructs.‭ “‬I say something really good doesn’t come along very often and you’ve got to take measures to get yourself those‭ ‬tickets.‭”

YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN, ‬Kravis Center for the Performing Arts,‭ ‬701‭ ‬Okeechobee Blvd.,‭ ‬West Palm Beach.‭ ‬Tuesday,‭ ‬Feb.‭ ‬1‭ ‬-‭ ‬Sunday,‭ ‬Feb.‭ ‬6.‭ ‬Tickets:‭ ‬$25‭ ‬and up.‭ ‬Call:‭ (‬561‭) ‬832-7469‭ ‬or‭ (‬800‭) ‬572-8471.

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