Young Frankenstein - London

Mel Brooks' classic monster musical arrives in London!

West End Young Frankenstein Star Hadley Fraser on Two Forces of Nature: Mel Brooks & Ramin Karimloo

West End Young Frankenstein Star Hadley Fraser on Two Forces of Nature: Mel Brooks & Ramin Karimloo
Hadley Fraser & Ross Noble in "Young Frankenstein"
(Photo: Manuel Harlan)

Hadley Fraser needs no introduction as one of the West End’s best and brightest, a talent at home both in musicals (Les Miserables, City of Angels) and the classics (he was Aufidius in 2013 to Tom Hiddleston’s Coriolanus). More recently, he has branched out as co-author of the recent, politically themed Donmar musical Committee… and can now be found leading the London premiere of Mel Brooks’s Young Frankenstein at the Garrick Theatre, alongside such diverse talents as Summer Strallen, Wicked alumna Dianne Pilkington and Tony winner Shuler Hensley. Where else to begin a chat than to discuss working with the venerable legend that is Mr. Brooks himself?

Did you ever think you’d be doing a show with a 91-year-old, not least Mel Brooks of all 91-year-olds?
It’s remarkable. I think of what I’d like to be doing age 91, seated on a sofa somewhere watching the cricket, and there’s Mel up and at it! He has so much persistence, and I mean that in a very positive way. He wants things to be as perfect as they can possibly be, and he also brings to the job some 70 years of experience. He’s a force of nature.

How well did you know Brooks’s 1974 film on which the stage musical is based?
I didn’t know it, but watched it on Netflix before my audition and loved it. It’s very easy to dismiss Mel’s comedy as a two-dimensional gagfest, but it is so informed by the material that has gone before it: there’s so much craft in what he does and so much love, as well.

Had you been eyeing this particular show?
This sort of came out of the blue to a certain extent. I wasn’t expecting it to come through, but I had worked with [producing team] Fiery Angel on the Kenneth Branagh season at the same theater, and they just called me up and asked whether I would come in and talk to the U.K. creative team, and then I went back again for Stro [director-choreographer Susan Stroman] a couple of weeks later.

How did Stroman couple her work on this with working alongside Hal Prince on the late-summer New York opening Prince of Broadway?
We had a pre-Stro week learning the music and working on a lot of the dance routines, but as soon as Prince of Broadway went into tech, she left that in the very capable hands of Hal Prince and joined us. We’ve had her ever since.

Is this musical purely a laugh machine or is there more going on?
Well, I wouldn’t want to overstate the case too much; this is musical comedy after all! But as an audience, you have to have somebody to root for, and I was quite keen to find what it would be that might hook the audience emotionally—something The Producers did very very successfully, where you really did care about Max and Leo and their journeys.

How have you forged that sense of connection here?
I felt quite early on that Fred [Frankenstein’s] journey didn’t quite have the emotional payoff that perhaps it could, so we have a new little song—really only a verse or so—where we sort of finish off Frederick’s story, which is his acceptance of his name, and if there is an underpinning to his story, it’s that. It feels now as if there’s something for the audience to hang their emotional hat on.

Were you aware at the time of the Broadway production?
Very much so! I was actually in the show [The Pirate Queen] that was in that theater [then called the Hilton] immediately before Young Frankenstein. Obviously, we were hoping our show would run and run so to find myself doing this show 10 years later is just one of those amazing connections that you get in life!

What do you think Mel Brooks might have made of the contrastingly serious, events-based musical Committee… that you created with Tom Deering and Josie Rourke for this summer’s premiere at the Donmar?
God knows. I think he would have beefed up the gags quite significantly; all the talk about select committees and the workings of British charity might have left him slightly cold.

Do you feel as if this year has allowed you to explore the spectrum of musical theater?
Looking at my year in microcosm, it really does demonstrate the breadth of what musical theater is about—that you can have flat-out musical comedy like this one, or something more form-challenging or kind of niche and politically engaged like Committee… That show was a helluva learning curve for [composer] Tom Deering and me, and the Donmar is a helluva place as a writer to have your very first show performed.

Are you still in touch with your Sheytoons performing and writing partner, Ramin Karimloo?
That partnership strikes up every so often, really, and Ramin is perhaps a little more devoted to it than I am: he has a following for that kind of stuff. When we do get together, it feels like a lovely release. We’ve talked about Mel Brooks being a force of nature but so is Ramin, really. I’ve known him since 2002 and just to see his star having risen so brightly and so honestly—he’s such an honest performer—is a real pleasure.

Meanwhile, can we expect you to be part of next year’s gender-bending West End revival of Company, which will star your wife, Rosalie Craig, as the first female Bobby—here renamed Bobbi?
Do you know what, I’m going to leave Rosie to take the stage on that one! I will probably be on dad duty for the run of the show [the couple has an 11-month-old daughter] so will just be supporting her from the auditorium. It’s such an exciting team and such a beloved show, and I’m as excited as everybody else about it.

Have you ever been in Company?
The closest I ever came was when I sang “Marry Me A Little” in a production of Putting It Together in 2004 up in Harrogate! At one time it would have been a possibility for me to play Bobby but I’m far happier, frankly, that it’s Rosie playing Bobbi.

Do you and your wife ever think about shows you might be in together?
There might come a time when the right thing comes alone—Sunday in the Park with George or even Sweeney Todd, or perhaps both. But we’ve not thought about that for the moment; we might when our little girl is a bit more mature.

Are there other, more recent Broadway musicals you're possibly coveting—‚ÄčThe Great Comet, for instance, were it to come over here?
I don't want to sound like I'm flippant or diffident about it and if that comes over, I'd love to do it. But I'm not one of those people who sits there coveting roles; if something's right, it will come along.