Last month I teamed up with London Box Office to bring you a review of Tina The Musical. As another one of my April theatre trips, they treated me to an evening at the Olivier-nominated Young Frankenstein. I’ve been interested to see this show for a while, although from what I’d read it seemed to be a bit of a marmite show. People either love it or hate it…and I’m still not sure where I sit.
Before I get into it, this is the first review I’m writing since overhauling my review process so if you’re used to my usual style, I suggest giving this post a skim over so you know where I’m going with this. Yes, after a year of not giving shows star ratings I’m finally conforming and sharing an overall rating.
Young Frankenstein is the musical adaptation of Mel Brooks’ cult classic film of the same name. It tells the tale of Frederick Frankenstein (pronounced ‘Fronk-en-steen’, played by Hadley Fraser), an ambitious Dean of Anatomy in New York with a particular interest in the brain. When his grandfather, the Victor Frankenstein, passes away, he must drop everything to sort out the affairs in Transylvania. Despite his pretty poor efforts to not follow in his grandfather’s footsteps, he acquires a personal assistant, a lab assistant and a house keeper, and finds himself creating his own version of Frankenstein’s Monster. And just like his grandfather’s creation, everything goes horribly wrong. Except this is a musical, so it goes wrong with a tap number in for good measure.
There has been a minor cast change since Young Frankenstein opened at the Garrick Theatre in September 2017, with Ross Noble leaving the role of doting assistant Igor in the more than capable hands of Cory Endsley, and Nic Greenshields replacing Shuler Hensley as the monster. The rest of the lead cast has remained the same, and they are what drew me to the production in the first place. I have been a fan of Hadley Fraser since the Les Mis film was released in 2012 and I just had to watch every musical version I could get my hands on. Fraser has played a number of roles in Les Mis: Grantaire in the 25th Anniversary Concert, Marius and Javert. Unfortunately due to always being in the wrong place at the wrong time, I’ve never been able to catch him in anything at all and due to his own personal reasons I almost missed him in this too. Fortunately for me, he was back on stage when I caught Young Frankenstein and I was blown away. I had no idea he could dance like that, and he is definitely one of the strongest male vocalists on the West End scene right now. Truly outstanding!
Summer Strallen has been on my radar since before she starred in The Sound Of Music around 10 years ago, taking over from Connie Fisher. Strallen featured in Hollyoaks back in the day and it all came to a climax when she was offered a role as – you guessed it – Maria in The Sound Of Music. For a theatre and a Hollyoaks fan, this was a brilliant for me and I really enjoyed the plot. However, I haven’t managed to catch Strallen on stage for myself either (or any of the other Strallen sisters that I can recall, so it was double bubble in April when I saw Zizi Strallen in Strictly Ballroom The Musical). This was very much a two birds, one stone situation for me and she was as excellent as I could’ve hoped.
One quick note about the casting is that I thought Lesley Joesph’s Olivier nomination was an odd pick, as I have seen other performances that I personally would’ve preferred to receive a nod. She was funny, but I couldn’t connect with the character she played. In terms of the other casting, I thought the ensemble were good, but nothing about their performance blew me away.
I honestly found it very hard to get on board with Young Frankenstein, which was really disappointing as I was so hopeful for the cast to be brilliant…which they were. However, the plot was dated and quite frankly a little dull. If you want the general gist, you might as well imagine the Mary Shelley original with some comedy added. I thought the set was a little amateur as far as West End sets go. Nothing about it was clever, and it just seemed very blank. Similar to the set, the costume as very plain and I feel a lot more could’ve been done with it.
Two aspects that I did really like were the score and the choreography. Whilst I said the humour in the story wasn’t my cup of tea, I thoroughly enjoyed the score and there were some very catchy tunes amongst the mix. I could appreciate these away from the plot, but they did really suit the show. I also really enjoyed the choreography by Susan Stroman, but I feel it was poorly executed in a few places (probably due to the costume). The sound and lighting design were nothing out of the ordinary, but definitely added to the performance as opposed to distract from the show.
Main Cast: 9/10
Lighting Design: 8/10
Sound Design: 7/10
Set Design: 4/10
Costume Design: 4/10
Audience Engagement: 8/10
In terms of my seating, I was in Stalls P6 (ranging from ~£35-£65 depending on the day you see the show) and the seating was fairly comfortable with adequate leg room for a West End Theatre. There was a little bit of an overhang from the circle above, but this did not obstruct my view for this particular production. However, I wouldn’t have wanted to be any further back as I fear the overhang would cause some obstruction. One comment to make is that you will hear trains running underneath the theatre, similar to at the Charing Cross Theatre (Yank; The Woman In White) and the Dominion Theatre (An American In Paris; Bat Out Of Hell) which can be really distracting once you begin to notice it.
Overall I was a little disappointed in Young Frankenstein, but I totally understand why people have returned time and time again. The lead cast are pretty special, and if the comedy is your kind of thing then it’d be a great show. However, it was a little too crude, and somewhat immature, for me to enjoy.