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A CurtainUp Review
Additional Commentary By Elyse Sommer
Here, in the new musical Frankenstein, we have a creature that is not only alive but speaks with a literate acumen and sings some heavy duty arias with a resounding brio. However, " It's alive" is graciously allowed to be part of the sparse spoken recitative in the mainly sung-through score by Mark Baron (music) and Jeffrey Jackson (book & lyrics). That I am obliged, however, to consider the score's value and artistic merit puts me at risk for being insensitive to the musical genre to which it aspires.
The score is certainly the driving force behind this musical since it was first conceived a number of years ago. To these ears, the score's twenty or so arias, plus a number of reprises, are notable for being essentially and conventionally derivative of the pop operas of the 1980s. While it smacks of earnest musicianship, it is oppressively loud and stirring without being appealing. Credit can go to Jackson's earnest lyrics for their unwavering commitment to the story and their success in complimenting the music. An example from Victor's aria: " The Coming of the Dawn, /Having Strayed So Far From Home/ I Deserve To Stand Alone/For While I Chased The Secrets Of The Night/ I Never Saw The Beauty In The Light. " But why in the world are head mikes needed in such a small theater. The cast members, with those antenna-like protrusions curving around their faces, all look like aliens from another world.
Unlike Mel Brooks' musical parody that is about to open on Broadway this is a commendably faithful adaptation (based on Shelley's own final 1841 rewrite) by Gary P. Cohen. It contains virtually all of the novel's key points, perhaps dramatized a bit too sketchily. It's also good that most audiences will have a fair idea of the story, as it allows for a better understanding of Victor's obsessive drive to learn the answers to life and death, the reasons his marriage to his family's ward Elizabeth is doomed, and what motivates his compulsive pursuit of the creature to the northern tip of the world.
As smartly directed by Bill Fennelly, the story unfolds with clarity and, except for the occasional but obligatory crashes of thunder and bolts of blinding lighting, without a lot of gimmickry. Don't expect to see a cluttered laboratory with countless bottles bubbling away or sparks of electrical currents shooting out from gadgets into the creature's brain. You may be impressed, as I was, by the simplicity of the staging and how effective it is as much by implication as by its musically distilled narrative.
This grand looking, impressively conceived production relies on a unit set. As designed by Kevin Judge, there is a huge and imposing diagonal stairway, a large screen on stage left onto which is projected some lovely images that indicate various locales. There's also an open space on stage right as well as an upstage area for some fine visual effects which particularly serve as a showcase for the lighting designer Thom Weaver whose work is especially notable in an early scene when only the scary, looming shadow of the creature is seen after it has escaped from Victor's laboratory.
The casting of Hunter Foster, as the brilliant but highly unorthodox scientist Victor Frankenstein is an unusual choice, but not because he lacks either dramatic or musical ability. Notwithstanding his exuberant performances as Seymour in Little Shop of Horrors and as Bobby Strong in Urinetown, he seems, for all his prescribed ranting and raving, unable to shake off being rather cute and adorable. Nevertheless, he sings the preponderance of his angst-driven arias with gusto.
Steve Blanchard is an imposing Creature standing as he should head and shoulders above his creator. Blanchard's broad heaving bared chest, his flailing hands and lumbering gait are defining as are the more poignant moments when he is able to express the anger and unhappiness of this more complexly characterized creature. He gets our sympathy in the scene in which he eagerly awaits his mate's first breath of life only to be sent into deep despair when Victor murders her after realizing that the woman he has just brought to life is mentally deranged.
As Elizabeth, the attractive Christiane Noll has a lustrous soprano voice. She encourages our empathy in a number of arias, but most beautifully with the plaintive "The Workings of the Heart," as sung with Victor. She looks lovely in the purple and white gowns designed by Emily Pepper. For the most part, however, Pepper's costumes reflect the musical's predominantly gray palette.
Eric Michael Gillett, as Victor's father; Becky Barta, as Victor's mother; Struan Erlenborn, as Victor's younger brother; Mandy Bruno, as the boy's governess; and Jim Stanek, as Victor's friend Henry, are all given their ration of vivid and stressful moments. They also help to fill up the stairway while providing the choral embroidery the score heavily relies upon. There is no denying that the collaborators have fulfilled their objective to honor Shelly's horrific masterpiece. Would that the music had the heft to break our heart, even as it chilled our bones.
Try onlineseats.com for great seats to
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