Updated: Feb 15
“I Never Saw a Man in So Wretched a Condition.”
GCG Theatricals’ latest production of “FRANKENSTEIN: A New Musical,” which premiered on Facebook Live and YouTube Live, February 12th at 7pm PST to much admiration and praise, is a stage musical adaptation inspired by Mary Shelley's 1818 novel, with music by Mark Baron and book and lyrics by Jeffrey Jackson, original story by Gary P. Cohen and direction and editing by Garrett Chandler.
GCG Theatricals, fast making a name for themselves for their high-quality streaming productions, has earned another merit badge to go along with last September’s grand showpiece, “Chess The Musical.”
With earnest ballads and soaring ensemble numbers, this tragic love story and exploration of humanity breathes new life into the world-renowned story of man and creator pitted against one another in epic battle. In his quest to discover the secret of life, Victor Frankenstein, a brilliant young scientist, challenges the laws of nature and mortality and creates a human of his own design that turns out to instead be a horrifying beast —a creature thirsting for revenge upon the creator who abandoned him.
Imagine a world without grief and pain. It is this noble goal which first compels Victor Frankenstein to pursue his dreams of reanimating life. Having lost his mother to Scarlet Fever, he vows to rid the world of the strife of death. Unfortunately, the creature Frankenstein brings back to life will ultimately wreak havoc on everyone around him. Nature doesn't always appreciate being toyed with.
"FRANKENSTEIN: A New Musical" explores the full gamut of human experience like no other musical ever written. Forget all you have seen in the movies —this is not a Hollywood scare-fest populated by lumbering ghouls and wild-eyed maniacs. This is a fresh look at Mary Shelley’s original, brilliant, romantic terror —a dark vision of what lies at the depths of the human soul and what happens when its full power is unleashed.
“Am I alive or in Purgat’ry? Am I insane?”
The musical’s creators have pointedly said that their goal was to return the story to its uncorrupted roots in the Shelley novel. First published over two centuries ago, the book has long been a staple of English lit classes, hailed as a dark twist on the classic creation myth and as a potent exploration of the troubling conflict between man’s desire for knowledge and the hubris that blinds him to the potential consequences of that quest.
Mr. Baron’s music combines elements of Broadway pop splashed with tinges of Jekyll & Hyde and Les Miserables, and stirred with a few thrashing rock-flavored anthems to liven things up, even as it chills our bones. The show is nearly altogether “sung-through,” meaning there is very little spoken dialogue, evoking the feeling of a modern operetta. Mr. Jackson’s lyrics are gothic-tinged breast beaters, studded with aesthetic metaphors, emotion and descriptive language. Lyrics touch upon themes of isolation, distrust, unrequited love, spiritual uncertainty, loss, pain, failure, and an ample dose of madness.
Nicholas Sloan (“Jesus Christ Superstar;” “Les Miserables”), who plays the title role with unflinching commitment, sings many an urgent anthem, keeping the ethereal, ambient and dark waves alive. Keep in mind, however, Frankenstein’s the man, not the monster.
Frankenstein’s handiwork, referred to here as the “Creature,” and played by Director Garrett Chandler ("Scarlet Pimpernel;” “Les Miserables”), is truly a work of art. In the novel, the Creature’s looks inspire instant horror. Here, he is defiantly un-seamed and devoid of chunky neck jewelry that Boris Karloff wore in the famous movie. In fact, this Creature could easily pass as a goth-rock band member on a Saturday night in North Hollywood with his dark eyeliner, smudge eye shadow, dark lipstick, and long, jagged, dyed-black hair. Of course, hunks can suffer too, and Mr. Chandler walks a fine line, singing masterfully while bringing heartfelt emotion, giving the Creature plenty of energy, anger and power in an august attempt to embody the tormented soul of his character, drawn to humanity but repulsed by it.
Yes, it may be strange to hear the Creature singing since we have been programmed to expect him to mostly grunt and lumber along from the classic films, but Mr. Chandler’s powerful voice along with his appropriately foreboding aura quickly dispels that notion as he sings the preponderance of his angst-driven arias with gusto.
Michelle Chaho as Victor’s ever-suffering, neck-snapping girlfriend, sings heavenly in her rendition of one of the show’s most gorgeous songs, “The Hands of Time.” Possessed of a pristine voice and strong acting conservance, she gives Elizabeth layers of complexity in a superb actualization.
Other powerful performances include Joel-Steven (“Jukebox Time Machine;” VIDEONews contributing editor) as Victor's gentle and kind father, Alphonse; Brooke Lewis (“Mr. Burns;” “Six Degrees of Separation”) as "frank-hearted and happy" Justine, William’s governess and later the Creature’s bride; William, Victor's vibrant and incredibly intelligent younger brother, who is played by Brennan Esguerra (“Lion King;” “ Sound of Music”); JoeJoe McKinney (“In the Heights;” “ Urinetown”) as Victor's good friend, Henry, who shares Frankenstein's desire to achieve great things at any cost; and Alden Bettencourt (“Man of La Mancha;” “Beauty and the Beast”) in a dual role—an ambitious sea captain who narrates the story, and a blind man the Creature murders in confusion.
Agatha, depicted by Jamie Leigh Walker (“Avenue Q;” “Spring Awakening”), is an example of selfless womanhood, caring for her elderly blind father and brother despite their poverty and her own sadness. And Caroline, played by Natasha Grach (“Ragtime;” “The Secret Garden”), is the gracious mother of Victor Frankenstein. Caroline represents the pure goodness that exists in the world, and was beloved by all who knew her. Cameo appearances also by animal actors, Sir Percival Blakeney (feline) and Sampson (canine).
A combination of Elizabeth Suzanne’s props (Ms. Suzanne also serves as Asst. Director), Nathan Gopen and Victoria Serra’s VFX skills along with Garrett Chandler’s editing savvy provided the dark ambience needed for this musical. With clever video footage, stills, special sound effects and lighting, Director Chandler was able to effectively provide the ever-changing locations and settings of the story, including the family headstones, the crashing and crackling lightning and thunder in and outside of Frankenstein’s laboratory, and even the frigid Arctic Ocean.
Victoria Serra ("Chess The Musical") also did a fabulous job with the colorful and eye-popping period costumes, especially Elizabeth’s stunning dresses and wedding gowns.
GCG is a virtual Theatre Company born out of artistic necessity in the wake of 2020's Covid-19 shut down of Live Theatre and Arts. You can help support this theatre company through their GoFundMe page at https://www.gofundme.com/f/gcg-theatricals-presents-frankenstein?utm_medium=email&utm_source=product&utm_campaign=p_email%2B4803-donation-alert-v5
"FRANKENSTEIN: A New Musical" is a Playscripts Inc. production, and was available for streaming one day only, February 12th, 2021. An encore presentation may be planned in the month of March. Please check directly with GCG Theatricals for details.
Arts & Entertainment Reviewer
The Show Report