Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Puttin' on the ice

Young Frankenstein, it would seem, will officially expire in January.

The Times has a great article by Patricia Cohen (one of those juicy inside-baseball sorts of pieces) about why it flopped; how badly the tickets were priced; how rigid the producers were about getting groups in until it was too late; etc.

But the best part is the schadenfreude of the larger Broadway community about YF's demise.

The producers of Young Frankenstein were deemed ultra-arrogant -- they simply assumed that it was going to be as big a hit as The Producers -- and were unprepared for mixed reviews and lackluster business. And just about everybody on Broadway feels that they got their just dessets.

I would argue two slightly more simple reasons for YF's failure:

1) Bad economy.

2) Crappy show.

I feel a little bad saying it was a crappy show because I haven't actually seen it. But I conducted an interview with Mel Brooks before the show opened and they sent me the cast album. (They refused to give me a press seat for the show -- but I suppose they thought The Forward wasn't big league enough. Score one for arrogance.)

Not that I don't love and worship the great Mel -- but the cast album left much to be desired. The songs were shlocky (not funny) and a little tiresome. And these songs took up half of the stage time of the show.

Granted, I've always thought the idea of adapting a great movie for the stage seemed a little counterintuitive.

I boycotted The Producers simply because I refused to believe that the movie -- perhaps the funniest thing I've ever seen on screen -- could ever possibly be topped. How could Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder be surpassed by Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick? It was ridiculous!

But The Producers at least had one major thing going for it that would make a transition to Broadway more feasible: It already had a lot of songs in it. "Prisoners of Love"; "Love Power"; and, of course, the immortal "Springtime For Hitler" were already written for the movie and fit perfectly with the rest of the book. Moreover, The Producers is about Broadway. It makes sense that it could be the subject of a lavish musical.

Young Frankenstein, however, is in the old Universal Pictures 1930s black and white tradition. It has a total of one song (which Brooks did not write) and it was written by Gene Wilder for Gene Wilder. Young Frankenstein might not have been as original as The Producers... but it is probably the greatest spoof ever made. And, as the man says, the medium is the message. A spoof like YF can't switch genres so easily.

I'm sad for Mel. He's a real comedic genius. (And he was a really nice son, Max, author of World War Z, whom I also wrote about. In fact, when I said to Mel, "You know I interviewed your son?" He said: "Of course I do. Why do you think I agreed to the interview? You were kind to my child!")

But he's Mel Brooks. He'll be fine.