Frankenstein The Musical
nytheatre.com review by Judith Jarosz
July 19, 2006
Robert Mitchell's Frankenstein The Musical deserves admiration for the work and rehearsal that must have gone into producing a show that should ideally have about 20 people in the cast (though I would have settled for 10). But with only six performers and some occasional help from the backstage crew, the Wings Theater Company still brings this story to life.
It's been years since I have read the novel, so I cannot comment on just how closely the storyline was followed, but for the most part the script stands on its own. The story is of Victor Frankenstein, a young Swiss student who discovers the secret of animating lifeless matter. He strives to create a human being out of choice parts from cadavers, and bring that creature to life. He succeeds, only to be repulsed by what he has created. He rejects his creation, who escapes in fright. We follow as the creature and the creator maneuver through their daily existence, one wanting to deny and forget what he has done, and the other rejected by society and desperate for love and revenge. Suffice to say that no one skips off into the sunset.
All of the performers handle their roles admirably. The delicately handsome Brain Charles Rooney finely portrays a tormented yet sensitive Victor Frankenstein. Timothy Warmen brings an intense sexuality and presence to the role of the Creature, though I do think that the Monster being as handsome and buff as Warmen makes it a bit harder to pity him. The four remaining cast members all run the gamut from dignified to sleazy with ease. Cadden Jones as Elizabeth has a porcelain beauty and light silvery soprano. Kim Volpe, with her wild flowing hair and tilted chin staring into the audience, reminds me a bit of Magenta in The Rocky Horror Show as she slithers around the stage in various incarnations. Martin Giannini plays his many roles with suitably varying broad strokes and subtle touches, and Paul Jackel is alternately comical, then impressively touching.
I would say this piece walks the line between modern opera and musical theatre. Most of the piece is sung with an occasional dialogue-only scene. The score is full of lush music with some difficult tight harmonies, which the entire cast executes with ease and polish. There is a lot of tenor tessitura, and I would love to hear a meaty bass-baritone line rounding out the harmonies. Musical director Paul Staroba on keyboard and Lisa Laskowich on second keyboard play the haunting score beautifully and passionately.
Director John Henry Davis keeps the action flowing very smoothly. The staging is creative and effective with multi-use panels by set designer Court Watson (who is also credited with the simple but effective costumes) providing the essential set elements. I'm not sure whom to credit for the choreography of these panels, Davis or musical staging director Haila Strauss. Probably both. A lot of difficult material is handled deftly. There is a rape scene that somehow manages to be relatively modest, frightening, and strangely tender, all at the same time. There are some clever lighting choices by Amith Chandrashaker and some eerie sound effects by Kevin Diamond. To really reach its full potential, this production needs a much bigger budget and cast. But then, what else is new off-off-Broadway? For anyone who is a fan of the gothic tale, it's worth a look.