The original plot of Mel Brooks' Young Frankenstein is said to have been conceived as a “what if” statement over a cup of coffee on the set of Blazing Saddles, just one of the notable collaborations Gene Wilder and Mel Brooks fostered throughout their creative partnership. Wilder was famous for contemplating unusual scenarios and the notion of an unwilling descendent of Dr. Frankenstein struggling to distance himself from his family’s stigma sparked inspiration for one of their most famous and successful works. Together they wrote the screenplay for the film Young Frankenstein which opened in 1974. It was directed by Mel Brooks and starred Gene Wilder as the title character. It became an immediate critical favorite and box office smash and today is ranked #13 on the American Film Institute’s list of 100 Funniest American Movies. In 2007 it opened on Broadway as a musical.
Just one year before meeting the deviously hilarious Brooks and making his transition to cinema, Gene Wilder made his stage breakthrough in the 1962 Broadway debut of Graham Greene’s The Complaisant Lover. Gaining immediate recognition for his performance as the Hotel Valet, he received the Clarence Derwent Award for most promising male actor by the Actors’ Equity Foundation. That same year he traveled to the Ogunquit Playhouse to reprise his role. This early success led to future roles, most notably the lead in Mother Courage and Her Children opposite Anne Bancroft, who later became Brooks’ wife. She introduced the two men and hence began one of the most successful partnerships in the entertainment industry. The tentative screenplay that became Brooks’ first feature film, then titled Springtime for Hitler (later renamed The Producers), was their first collaboration and the key to their legendary comedic acclaim.
Mel Brooks is esteemed for his satirical humor and his place on the short list of great entertainers who have won an Academy, Emmy, Grammy and Tony Award. Getting his start as a stand-up comic and television variety show writer, Brooks branched out to film and musical theatre with extreme success. His first film, The Producers, displayed his avant-garde knack for bizarre laughs, which received mixed reviews and accusations of being “in bad taste,” yet won him and Gene Wilder the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay. The surprising success of his first feature paved the way for further oddball forays including Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein (both with Gene Wilder), Silent Movie, High Anxiety, History of World, Part I,the Spaceballs, and Robin Hood: Men in Tights. More recently, he has placed his focus on recreating his cinematic masterworks for the stage. In 2001, Brooks adapted The Producers into a Broadway Musical, garnering a record-breaking 12 Tony Awards, including Best Musical and Best Original Score. It starred Nathan Lane (Tony Award), Mathew Broderick (Tony nominee) and Cady Huffman (Tony Award). The Producers appeared on the Ogunquit Playhouse stage in 2008. In 2009, Cady Huffman performed in Ogunquit’s production of All Shook Up alongside Sally Struthers.
Young Frankenstein, the last of Brooks and Wilder’s three collaborations, is considered by Mel Brooks to be his best film. Serving as an affectionate parody of the classic 1930’s horror film, it became a beloved work for fans of both horror and comedy alike and has achieved a cult following. Gene Wilder portrays the reluctant heir to the Frankenstein legacy, who makes a bumbling transformation with the help of familiar characters from Mary Shelley’s original book. Following the success of The Producers, Brooks decided to adapt Young Frankenstein into a musical comedy as well. The original production ran on Broadway from 2007-2009, with 484 performances, followed by two national tours in 2010 and 2011. The new musical was nominated for three Tony Awards and a Grammy for Best Musical Show Album, in addition to winning the Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Musical.
Today, the Ogunquit Playhouse has partnered with the Gateway Playhouse in Long Island to recreate the Broadway extravaganza and Susan Stroman’s team is here on site to create a new Ogunquit Playhouse version. The original Broadway costumes by William Ivey Long and Tony nominated sets by Robin Wagner will set the stage for the eye-popping special effects, spectacular musical numbers and of course – the tap dancing Monster!