This show was the first real example of an unfortunate phenomenon of the new century…the critic-proof show. Now, ‘critic-proof shows’ as such have existed since the Eighties, but back then they were generally wonderful shows like Phantom and Les Miserables that the professional critics were giving the snob treatment, and they were only critic-proof because everyone was aware that the critics were genuinely wrong. But in the days before about 2008, legitimately awful shows did not succeed on Broadway. Now and then a mediocre show, like Applause or Starlight Express, would manage to become a major hit, but the decisively horrible shows invariably failed. They might have managed to eke out a decent run now and then (the most obvious example of this being Ilya Darling, often proclaimed the worst show of the Sixties, which ran for 300 performances), but they lost money, they didn’t go on national tours, and they were widely acknowledged as all-around failures.
This was, to my knowledge, the very first show in Broadway history to become more or less a smash hit despite the fact that virtually no-one liked it. For the record, I, like everyone else, wanted to like this show, given that it was Mel Brooks’ follow-up to The Producers, but the honest truth is that it’s a total piece of crap. In fact, this might be the single worst theater score of the decade to make it as far as an actual cast album. This is the modern equivalent of something like Ankles Aweigh, with every single number being pure floppo.
Frederick’s entrance number, “The Brain”, has some of the stupidest lyrics ever heard on Broadway, a chorus that half-heartedly parodies Rodgers and Hammerstein (“there is nothing like the brain”), and the first example of the show’s worst habit: taking hilarious single lines from the film and expanding them into three-minute songs, destroying all their humor in the process (e.g. “Roll In the Hay”). Later, we get an out-of-nowhere, imbecilic dance novelty, “The Transylvania Mania”; the stupidest Brecht-Weill parody of all time, “He Vas My Boyfriend”; “Please Don’t Touch Me”, with its incredibly annoying melody and screamed repetition of “Tits!”; and the brainlessly generic cheer-up ditty “Listen To Your Heart”, with its middle section making lame puns about the names of great philosophers.
For the hilarious yet oddly moving scene in the film where Frederick finally accepts the monster, which cried out for another “Til Him”, we get only the forgettable ditty “Man About Town”. And the hilarious “Puttin’ On the Ritz” sequence from the film is destroyed by being turned into a stage-filling production number. Worst of all is the eleven-o’clocker; replacing the “Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life” gag from the film is a truly disgusting song called “Deep Love” that is about exactly what you’re all currently praying it isn’t about.
You’d think the cast would help, featuring as it does Roger Bart, Megan Mullaly, Sutton Foster and Andrea Martin, but in reality, only Foster manages to turn in a decent performance. The others are dragged down by their material, especially Mullaly, who is burdened with the worst of the score.
In this case, I honestly believe the only reason for this show’s otherwise inexplicable success is that, because Brooks’ last show was so glorious, that there really were enough people who wouldn’t listen to the bad word-of-mouth and just needed to find out that this show sucked for themselves, to fill the theater for over a year. Even so, it set a very dangerous precedent, and and while I generally dismiss critics who sneer about the supposed dumbing-down of Broadway and the purported ignorance of modern Broadway audiences, I can’t deny that this show’s utterly undeserved success is a heretofore unheard-of mark of shame for Broadway, and that it doesn’t exactly say anything positive about the intelligence and taste of modern Broadway audiences.