Saturday, October 20, 2007

Young Frankenstein is the funniest piece of comic musical theater I've ever seen. In adapting it to the stage, they've made some very canny choices: First, as the film was in black and white, the stage production adopts the conventions of the comic revue circa 1934, when the story is set. So there's a kind of Marx Brothers tone to everything (in fact, Frederick Frankenstein's entrance is sort of like Groucho Marx's in Horsefeathers). Second, they sort of deal with much of the audience knowing the best lines by setting them cleverly within the context of musical numbers. You wouldn't think that Frau Blucher's "He Vas My Boyfriend!" could be spun into a great comic aria, but it works amazingly well. Third, the same is done with stage design and other conventions: the show plunders the whole vocabulary of classic designs for musicals the way the film did with Hollywood mise-en -scene--anyone who's looked at Young Frankenstein closely sees immediately why Mel Brooks championed David Lynch and The Elephant Man--and essentially every musical number is a variation upon a showstopper in another, classic show--including the Gilbert & Sullivan comic operetta Ruddigore. And maybe you don't like Will and Grace, but Megan Mullally is fucking brilliant--and you'll be hearing this in reviews in a week or so, so let me be the first to mention: she's channeling Charles Busch in Die, Mommy, Die, the latest in a long line of distinguished performances by biologically female entertainers as drag queens.
So yes, it's very, very good, and I'll be surprised if it doesn't run for eleventy-hundred years. If there isn't a strike this week, that is.
So not everybody here is into musical comedy, but it's kind of my equivalent of serial killer/tribal rock band/Japanese porn. (As Jake Shears once said, "Judy Garland is my heavy metal.") We had every Broadway cast album in my house when I was a kid, and I knew all the lyrics. And I obsessively reread the New-Yorker, Algonquin-table humorists, and loved borscht-belt comics. When I got "serious"--starting with Thoreau, Buddhism, Marxism, then, God help us, symbolist French poetry--in my teens, I left it all behind. Sometime in my thirties, I realized that my inner voice was closer to Ethel Merman and Buddy Hackett than to Verlaine and Rimbaud. That's just the kind of hairpin I am.
Although come to think of it, I do think that's why the South Park movie is so brilliant, and why Johnny Knoxville feels so close to Rip Taylor and John Waters--and why the brilliant finale of Jackass Two is a musical number Mel Brooks must have pissed his pants over (though he'd probably say that at his age, he pisses his pants over very movie he sees).

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