NEW YORK CITY Last December my wife and I traveled to New York with some friends to see three Broadway plays. We love Christmas in Manhattan, but the trip was also driven by a desire to see what Mel Brooks had done with the stage production of one of our all-time favorite movies, "Young Frankenstein."
Ironically, the other two plays turned out to be better choices. Not that we didn't enjoy "Young Frankenstein" especially the complex, eye-popping production design but it turned out to be much more raunchy than the film. And the film is pretty raunchy.
First the other two: "The Farnsworth Invention," a new play about Philo Farnsworth, the Mormon farm boy credited with creating television, and a revival of the classic "Cyrano de Bergerac."
"Frankenstein" is still playing in New York with the same primary cast, but, alas, "Farnsworth" closed this month, and "Cyrano" was an even shorter run. But the good news about "Cyrano" is that it was filmed for broadcast on PBS later this year.
There are several movie adaptations of "Cyrano de Bergerac," the two most satisfying being the 1950 version, for which Jose Ferrer won the best-actor Oscar, and the 1990 French film starring Gerard Depardieu.
We found this new version funny, thrilling and touching, and Kevin Kline was brilliant as the title character with the large nose who reluctantly helps a rival win the hand of his beloved Roxanne, who was played with charm and wit by Jennifer Garner. (And I'm looking forward to seeing it again on PBS.)
"The Farnsworth Invention" was written by Aaron Sorkin ("A Few Good Men," "The West Wing"), and as you might expect, it is clever, smart and often quite amusing. Taking a fictional what-if? approach to a true story, Farnsworth (played wonderfully by Jimmi Simpson) and David Sarnoff (the great Hank Azaria) square off in a 1940s race to invent TV. And the production design was simple and spare, yet surprisingly inventive.
As is Sorkin's bent, it was also replete with R-rated language, which I hope he'll clean up if his dream of making the play into a film is ever realized.
The movie "Young Frankenstein," a specific parody of the 1930s films with Boris Karloff, was co-written by Brooks and Gene Wilder (who also starred as the good doctor) and is one of the most quotable movies of all time.
Most of those memorable lines are here, and some have become songs written by Brooks. (Although it should be noted that my wife's favorite when Frankenstein embraces his fiancee and she says, "Taffeta, darling," which he misinterprets as a pet nickname was omitted from the stage production.)
Still, it's quite a show with lots of laughs, and the "name" performers are all quite good, with, to my thinking, two standouts Christopher Fitzgerald as Igor, making the character his own, and Andrea Martin as Frau Blucher.
Of course, Wilder had nothing to do with the play, and Brooks has let his penchant for crassness run wild.
It should be noted that "Young Frankenstein" is also a huge hit, a sellout, and, in general, fans of the movie will likely not be disappointed.But if he turns this one into another film (as he did the musical remake of "The Producers"), Brooks may come a lot closer to an R rating than he ever did with the original.
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