Shrek vs Young Frankenstein – a Tale of 2 Summer Stock Musicals

What possess people to take a movie – even a hit movie – and transform it into a Musical? Imagine the conversation – “Well, we made millions on the movie – surely people will pay big bucks to see the same story with some dumb music added, right?” Aren’t they a bit embarrassed? Particularly if the ‘Musical’ flops?

I’m guessing that the lure of more money is simply irresistable and drowns out the voice of common sense.

Of course – I paid to see the both musicals. So what does that make me? Dumb and Dumber?

But having promised honest reviews – here goes.

The 2 ‘Musicals’ in question were Young Frankenstein – The ‘Musical’, and Shrek – The ‘Musical’. Both movies should be pretty familiar to all my readers – but if you don’t know the stories – or haven’t seen either lately – I suggest watching them again before reading further. They are both outstanding movies – fast paced and extremely funny. ‘Walk This Way’, ‘Roll in the Hay’, and ‘Put the Candle Back’ – even without the accents – always make me smile. And I can’t think of Donkey without getting a giggle started.

So I was pretty up to see these performances. Young Frank was put on at the Ogunquit Playhouse, a professional summer theatre house in Maine that takes it’s self very seriously, even while doing musicals like ‘Guys and Dolls’ or ‘The Music Man’. They hire professional actors, the sets are well-built, the performers properly miked for sound, the hall is air-conditioned, and the price is high without being silly – it is ‘Summer Stock’ after all.

Shrek on the other hand was produced by the Arundel Barn Playhouse – also ‘professional’, but on the – first job – level. The sets were simpler than those at the Ogunquit Playhouse, but still complex – the Dragon was a seriously top-notch piece of stage craft, but the performers weren’t miked, the theatre isn’t air-conditioned, and the seats appear to be recycled from a theatre in the 1930s – hard and a bit uncomfortable. But they weren’t afraid to charge – Tickets for adults were $40 each – pricy for basically university graduates.

So for comfort, production values, and performer quality – the Ogunquit is the clear winner.

Unfortunately – Young Frank is the decidedly poorer musical. What Mel Brooks did was to take the movie – leave in all the gags, including Frau Blucher – cue horses, and add very forgettable music. The highlight was easily ‘Putting on the Ritz’ – which they seriously expanded into a complete performance number which including having the Monster climb out of a cake. Another musical number, this one at least written for the musical and not too bad – was the rather adorable piece called ‘Join the Family Business’ which featured multiple doctors and nurses trying to convince Young Frankenstein to – well – join the family business. It ends with him crying ‘Destiny, Destiny’ of course. But all in all – the music is completely forgettable, you won’t remember a single tune after you leave, and there’s quite a bit of over-the-top sexually specific slapstick that I found frankly embarrassing. I didn’t poll my seat mates, but listening in to conversations as we left make me think that my family wasn’t alone in thinking that we’d been hood-winked into paying a lot of money to see a movie that we could get cheap on net flicks.

Shrek – The Musical was very different. In this case – a lot of effort had gone into making the story more interesting through the use of the musical numbers. ‘I know it’s Today’ tells the history of Princess Fiona – growing up unloved in her castle tower, while ‘Freak Flag’ encourages Sherk to be proud of who and what he is. My personal favorite was ‘What’s Up Duloc?’, which starts with the song from the movie – and segways into a marvelous explanation of just how bad a ruler Lord Farquaad has turned out to be. Another charmer is the contest song between Sherk and Fiona – both determined that their lives have been the hardest – and summarized for the audience in ‘I think I Got You Beat’. And having Lord Farquaad placed by a very tall and thin young man on his knees, but wearing short ‘legs’ was a delightful visual treat.

But Shrek, for all the lovely music, had issues too, mostly related to the production. By far the worst problem could have been solved by giving Shrek a mike. He was impossible to hear – and hard to understand if you could hear him. And we were in the third row. He was not alone in the ‘I can’t hear you’ department either. The gal that sang the Dragon had to stand at the back of the stage because of her ‘costume’ – and her voice seemed to go up into the fly – not out into the audience. Bummer that – from what we could hear, she had a fabulous set of pipes. Arundel Playhouse – invest in mikes for the performers. Please?

So – two should have been good but weren’t – theatre performances. I’ll go back to the Oqunquit Playhouse next summer – hoping for a better pick of productions – but I’m not keen to try the Arundel Barn Playhouse again. Uncomfortable seats and inaudible performers just ruins even the best musical.

Oh well – if you never go, you never know!

2 thoughts on “Shrek vs Young Frankenstein – a Tale of 2 Summer Stock Musicals

  1. What about the shadow puppets? And I think the yodelling by Inga and the superior cast struggling through a bad play deserves a mention too!

    • Absolutely. The Shadow puppet section was wonderfully well done. The monster dances on the stage, his shadow dancing on a screen behind him. Then suddenly the shadow starts dancing on it’s own. Fab piece of theatre. And true – Inga’s yodel bit during ‘Roll in the Hay’ is also fab. Truly a shame that the play is basically so terrible.

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