The temperatures around the Houston area may still be above 100 every day, but Pasadena’s Stage Door Inc. is ushering fall in with a chillingly lavish production of Mark Baron, Jeffrey Jackson, and Gary P. Cohen’s FRANKENSTEIN—A NEW MUSICAL. The complexly orchestrated show premiered Off-Broadway in 2007 and has yet to really gain the appreciation it deserves. Certainly programming a piece such as this is a major risk, especially for a community theatre, but Stage Door Inc. has put together a genuinely entertaining and completely enjoyable theatrical experience for their audiences.
This adaptation of the classic Gothic and Romantic novel by Mary Shelley is perhaps the most unabashedly accurate one to date. The musical begins with captain Robert Walton’s frame narrative and tells the tale of Victor Frankenstein and his sympathetic creature entirely in flashback. Furthermore, the musical includes the framing device around the creature’s story that is present in the novel. For audiences who have never enjoyed Mary Shelley’s tale in its original format, this may prove a bit difficult to follow; yet, in performance it is spectacular to take in and my literary background and passion really appreciated the book, lyrics, and score for capturing the richness and intricacies of Shelley’s original plot.
Marc Anthony Glover, founding artistic director of Stage Door Inc., directs the show with style and grace. Utilizing the limited space to its fullest degree, he deftly allows the audience to explore the rich themes and conceptualize hard to stage dramatic moments, such as Victor’s chase of the creature across the European and Antarctic continents. He also designed a sparse set that is highly versatile yet appropriately evocative to convey each dramatically different location in the show. Assistant director Lauren Hoehn and Music Director Bryan Weber also deserve kudos for the direction of the show. Mark Baron’ score is anything but simplistic; yet, under the direction of this assembled team, the cast beautifully sings their way through the complicated and convoluted score.
As the creature, Justin Nicholson, is perfectly cast. His deep baritone and bass register is sinister when needed yet surprisingly tender and emotive as well, aptly playing on the heartstrings of the audience throughout the show. Justin Nicholson’s characterization adroitly portrays both the monstrous and the humanistic aspects of the creature, which perfectly resonates sympathy and keeps the audience on his side.
Travis Hamilton masterfully portrays Victor Frankenstein. He conveys the emotional density of the character with the utmost believability, allowing Victor to be a fully realized and sympathetic character as well. His upper register is thin from time to time, but it never hurts his performance because it comes across as emotionally vulnerable and ultimately purposeful.
Elizabeth Lavenza, as played by Leslie Sharp, is beautiful and compassionate. Furthermore, Leslie Sharp has amazing control of her voice and can belt like any trained professional. Members of the audience even likened her to Ethel Merman at the performance I attended.
Erin Butler’s Justine was pristinely performed as well. Her vocal control is breathtaking and adequately put to use in this production. Erin Butler can belt and sing tenderly as well, bringing power and emotion to her performance.
FRANKENSTEIN—A NEW MUSICAL is truly an ensemble show, and Marc Anthony Glover as assembled quite an impressive group for this production. It is easy to forget that Houston’s East Side has talented artists, but performances from Marc Anthony Glover and his ensemble prove that the East Side is full of them. While the whole group did fantastically, Alyssa Araguz really stands out. Her turn as Agatha, the Blind Man’s daughter, was stirring. She captured the emotional despair of this scene with ease. Likewise, her voice is angelic and well trained.