Frankenspell Superstar

Book, music, and lyrics by Tobin James Mueller
Directed by Edward Medina
Thirteenth St. Rep.
50 W. 13th St. (675-6677)
Non-union production (reopens in June)
Review by John Chatterton

One thing to say about the peculiar economics of Off-Off-Broadway -- there's no limitation on the number of actors you can put on stage, since they usually don't get paid. (Well, unless you count the expense of costumes.)

And no more so than in the Frankenstein adaptation at the 13th St. Rep., where 30 (mostly young) actors appear on stage -- with two alternating casts. The multiplication of roles, while lending the power of the ensemble to an effective assemblage of smoke, light, and sound, underscores the problems of this adaptation.

The story (fortunately abstracted in the program of this sung-through, overloud production) has the Creature (Lewis Thompson) escape accidentally, as in the book, from Frankenstein's lab. With him go the lab animals, a chorus in animal costumes. He falls rather chastely in love with a young girl (Melanie Grace). The townspeople complain about Frankenstein's experiments and prepare to burn his house down. The Creature comes down with a mysterious skin disease. The chorus encourage him to return to the lab, to be healed by his creator; they go along to offer moral support. When the Creature and Frankenstein (Michael Calderon) finally come face to face, Frankenstein must explain to his creation that he was disposable.

What jumps out of the novel is the Creature's conflict with Victor, like Man asking God the meaning of his pain. It's Paradise Lost for today. The downside of this epic is its sheer intractability. It is told in 18th-century epistolary style, as a series of letters retold within letters (today's novel barely existed, if at all, and she certainly didn't have the literary chops to invent it).

A dramatic adapter must get to the fundamental conflict between Frankenstein and his Creature, as well as the conflict between Frankenstein and society, and use them to drive the story to its "terrible inevitable outcome" (quote from the program notes). The task is not unlike sculpting from basalt. Turning the story into a Disney fantasy (with an additional chorus of four Gypsies, representing the four elements) is a strange conception and shows no desire to free the themes from the living rock of the novel.

The production showed off a mostly enthusiastic, well-directed cast (though two members had to overcome the giggles at one point). Smoke and lights (Medina and Jessica Poletti) and a black-box set with trapdoor and ladders made an effective setting. The Creature looked best in his introduction, his almost-nude body outlined by lights, rather than in general lighting with what looked like inexpert muscle makeup.

The music was unmemorably tuneful; the lyrics, when heard, unsophisticated ("We must all stand alone/Against the great unknown/Or we'll be overthrown"), though, coupled with big chords, having a certain monumental weight. Makeup was overdone; cute animal masks by Jaqueline Portella.

Also featuring on the night of review, Christine O'Rourke, Stephanie Lusen, Paula Bartkowitz, Denise R. Mullen, Michael Himes, Tracie Leucuta, Ellen Contente, Cameron MacKenzie, Steve Kasprzak, Jose Antonio, Peter Makus, John Fitzgerald, Simcha Borenstein, Lisa Sredniawaski, Natasha K. Goodman, Jordan Auslander, Paige Farrington, Peter Makus, Jordan Auslander, John Marnell, Jeremy Rosen, Gisa Nandez, Gavin Smith, Ron Shepard, Jayne Corey, Jackson Yung; stage manager, Mark Conrad.

[The reviewer wrote the book and lyrics to Frankenstein: The Musical Drama. --Ed.]

Box Score:
Book 0 Lyrics1 Music 1
Directing 2
Acting 1
Set 1
Costumes 1
Lighting/Sound 1
Copyright 1996 John Chatterton

Return to Home Page