It's most definitely alive. Whether or not it's kicking is another story.
Young Frankenstein, Mel Brooks' first foray back to Broadway since The Producers stormed the boards in 2001, opened Thursday night with high anticipation and massive hype but a veritable monster mash of critiques.
Based on Brooks' classic 1974 spoof film, The New Mel Brooks Musical Young Frankenstein follows the exploits of the youthful doctor Frederick Frankenstein (pronounced, of course, Fronk-en-steen), who departs from his New York home for Transylvania to settle the estate of his grandfather and reluctantly take up the family business of monster making.
Desperate Housewives' Roger Bart, who also appeared in the Broadway version of The Producers, takes over the role made memorable by Gene Wilder, who was present for the show's opening night. Will & Grace alum Megan Mullally plays Frankenstein's frigid fiancée, Elizabeth.
The lead up to the show's opening night, at the 1,830-seat Hilton Theater, hitherto one of Broadway's largest and least loved, has been headline grabbing, with the musical reportedly selling upwards of $30 million in advance tickets. This, despite almost absurdly inflated ticket prices: A "premium" orchestra seat will set a theatergoer back a record-setting $450.
In a slap to tradition, Brooks & Co. are refusing to reveal the show's weekly grosses. Still, the advance sales have already recouped the show's $16 million-plus budget.
But when it comes to whether that was money well spent, well, everyone really is a critic.
"As newly rich New Yorkers learn every day, money can't buy you flair," opined the New York Times. "It can't even buy you laughs."
The consensus among reviewers seems to be not that the show was necessarily bad but that it simply wasn't as good as its cinematic forbearer...or Brooks' last Broadway effort...or, perhaps, his next one (a rumored adaptation of Blazing Saddles).
The Hollywood Reporter said that while the production was a "hilarious crowdpleaser" and that Bart himself was "very amusing," the show as a whole "doesn't live up to the level of its predecessor—nor, for that matter, to the comedic brilliance of its film inspiration." Brooks' score was deemed "little more than serviceable."
Variety labeled the show "just good enough" but said it lacks the heart and laughs of its predecessor. The trade also noted the backlash from the theater community—tensions over ticket prices, last-minute venue changes and no weekly-gross reporting, as having hurt the production.
The never subtle New York Post, meanwhile, called the show "not quite a monster," while the Chicago Tribune's resident reviewer quipped, "They've created a...dud."
One thing the critics seemed to agree on is the musical's highlight: the showstopping rendition of "Puttin' on the Ritz." The duet between Frankenstein and his monster (Shuler Hensley in the role created onscreen by Peter Boyle).
With Brooks' track record and the monstrous advance ticket sales, Young Frankenstein could be critic-proof for a while. But it will take a lot to top The Producers, which finished its Broadway run in April after six record-breaking years and 2,502 performances.
All told, the musical, which cost $10.5 million to stage, has raked in $283 million worldwide, earning back its budget in eight short months, and garnered a record 12 Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Best Book and Best Score for Brooks and Best Actor for star Nathan Lane.