From the opening lines of Eric B. Sirota’s Frankenstein, sung by the doctor himself in a flash-forward to the end of the story, to the last notes of the first act, I heard gentle gasps from the audience member behind me. Despite the green, stitch-filled mythology around it, this is not a scary show, nor is there any mystery around the plot. But I knew exactly what was evoking her reaction. And in the ladies’ room during intermission, she confirmed it: “There is so much talent in New York!”
I completely agreed with my fellow audience member. The cast, especially the three leads (Danny Bristoll as Creature, Jonathan Cobrda as Victor Frankenstein, and Amy Londyn as Elizabeth) handle a soaring new score with flawless and often breathtaking technique. In a show brimming with ballads, I never got tired of hearing those perfectly-shaped closing notes, infused with enough emotion to send chills down the spine. If the measure of a musical is its music, then Frankenstein measures all the way up.
But, a musical also tells a story. And as Officer Lockstock warned us in Urinetown, “Nothing can kill a show like too much exposition.” Frankenstein is by no means dead (notwithstanding its subject matter). But long scenes, sung in plucky harmony to relay arguably-unnecessary backstory, can pull one’s head out of the experience. I’d advise theater-goers not to be fooled by the first two scenes, as I nearly was, into thinking that Sirota entirely tasks the characters with providing plot details through songs and awkward dialogue. On the contrary, we’re treated to some sincerely clever narrative devices once Frankenstein gets going. The re-emergence of the Creature after a 1.5-year absence comes to mind. As he tells his story to Frankenstein, ensemble members act out the dramatic events in silhouette before a screen illuminated in lime green light (a nod, perhaps, to the classic monster movies that popularized Mary Shelley’s novel?). It’s a riveting and effective way to end the first act.
It was wise of the writer and production team to make this use of their ensemble’s talents. While the leads’ vocals really shine, the rest of the cast members (Charles Baran, Benjamin Haupt, Cait Kiley, and Gabriella Marzetta) carry the story effectively without seeming shorthanded, despite their small number. Their side-stage vignettes of memories or fantasies, and their short spurts of perky comic relief, were some of the sweetest moments in an otherwise earnestly dramatic show.
If you expect a campy or frightening Halloween horror musical, this is not the choice for you. But if you love pretty harmony and Phantom-flavored, belted ballads; or if you adore the original novel and would appreciate a musical love letter true to its source material – check out the world premiere of Frankenstein, a new musical.
Photo: Amy Londyn / Photo by: Danny Bristol
Hannah Brown is a freelance writer, theatre performer and enthusiast, bleeding-heart progressive, avid viewer of zombie movies, and box wine aficionado. When she's not writing, singing, or acting, she's giving herself a manicure, taking selfies, eating avocado toast, or otherwise bringing about the fall of western civilization with her millennial frivolity. She lives in Brooklyn with three friends, two of whom are cats.