One of literature’s most celebrated monsters is getting a new musical treatment, courtesy of a Mesa director and a number of young Mesa thespians.
“Frankenstein, An Original Musical” will be presented by State 48 Theatre Company Feb. 26-28 at 7 p.m.; Feb. 29 at 3 and 7 p.m.; March 4-6 at 7 p.m.; and March 7 at 3 p.m. The Fuse Box at State 48 Theatre, 943 S. Gilbert Road, Suite 202, Mesa.
Tickets are $14 and can be purchased at state48theatre.com/tickets.
State 48 Director Andrea K. McFeely, who authored the new musical and wrote some of the lyrics, chose the story of the lumbering, stitched-together creature and its maker because “healthy, happy, transparent heroes and heroines rarely make for interesting character studies.”
“I have long been interested in the character of Victor Frankenstein with his hubris and sad charm,” McFeely explained, recalling how “as a child, I learned Frankenstein was the creator of the creature, not the creature himself” and “I never enjoyed the old Hollywood version of Frankenstein and this cemented it for me.”
She has “always had sympathy for the” nameless creature, rejected by his father/creator over his appearance.
But McFeely is not about to dismiss the fact the monster, well, is a monster – albeit a complicated one.
“He learns to read and write and to discuss philosophy - but he is still willing to kill a child,” she explained. “He craves love and companionship but hates with an unfortunate focus.”
But the play’s namesake is no angel, either, she said, noting: “Victor is a moral coward in so many ways.”
Although there was a musical version of the legendary monster novel produced in New York in 2007, the State 48 version is an original written by McFeely, who said she hews closely to Mary Shelley’s novel.
Music is by Karli Kemper and Bryson Giles, orchestration by Giles and lyrics are by Karli Kemper, Bryson Giles, Sammi Merkeley and Andrea McFeely.
McFeely uses two framing devices for her story – Captain Walton’s letters to his sister Margaret and Shelley writing the story and sharing it with people in Lake Geneva.
But the musical still drives home McFeely’s interpretation of Shelley’s work:
“Victor, who wants to leave his mark on the world by ending the pain of loss, the creature who simply wants to be recognized, accepted – they both desire what we all desire but they both fail spectacularly in their pursuit of happiness.”
“The body count is a bit higher in our production than in the novel – actors love to die onstage – and some subplots and destinations were modified,” she added.
Asked about the challenges in mounting production, McFeely replied, “We need a bigger space.”
“This production requires a ton of costume changes, furniture/set pieces being brought on and off stage and cast members standing ready to do our sweeping set rotations.
“That all takes up room – a commodity we are in short supply of. Our stage area is perfect for this large and mobile set, but our actors have to respect each other’s property and space, master doing quick changes in the dark with no elbow room, and remember to remain silent backstage only three feet away from the audience.”
She credits stage Manager Chantel Powers and assistant stage manager Judith Connors of Mesa with ensuring all those characters – at least while they are alive – keep moving safely.
“The structure of the story mandates 10 significant locations so we designed a set primarily comprised of three large rotating platforms always remaining onstage and several light pieces that can move quickly on and off the stage,” McFeely said, noting she’s added “plenty of thunder and lightning, candlelit laboratories, all-too-brief moments of gaiety out in the sunshine.”
She credits set and lighting designer Michael Smyth with “creating an elegantly spooky feel with wireframe sets and sheer fabrics over the emptiness of our black box” and music director/State 48 co-artistic director Karli Kemper for a choir “this further enhances the spookiness of the tale.”
Gilbert resident and choreographer Halle Glazebrook “has been quite inventive with movement and dance choreography.”
Mesa residents Brooklyn Harris and Kailei Beltran also helped out on lights and sound and Mike Smyth of Gilbert and Justin Kemper helped on set design.
The cast has been up to the challenge from day one of rehearsals, McFeely said, calling the collective “a bright, passionate, experienced cast.”
“They are inquisitive and excited to bring a classic piece of literature to life,” she said, noting even in an age of super monsters with souped-up CGI effects, the young thespians were fascinated with the two-century-old monster.
“I have had so many interesting philosophical discussions with my cast members in and out of rehearsal about the relative culpability of the Creature versus Victor Frankenstein,” McFeely said.
“We’ve also had the opportunity …to ask questions about moral failures, question how far good intentions mitigate bad choices, discuss the implications of certain relationships… These kids are fascinated by both Victor and his brilliant, nameless, abandoned monster.”
The costumes are relatively elaborate.
“Frank won’t be green,” she joked, “but he will look like someone dug him up a few days after he went into the ground.”
“Victor rejects his creature because he is physically repulsed by his appearance - so the monster needs to be repulsive. He also needs to look strong but awkward, lumbering, in poor control of his body - so we have invested in some costume pieces to help create this effect.”
The rest of the cast will be wearing mid-Georgian era fashions or late Regency era clothes since “we deal with two time periods and eagle-eyed audiences will notice the Regency-dressed writers and poets of the Lake Geneva summer intruding upon the characters of Frankenstein as Mary Shelley peoples her tale with those close to her,” McFeely said.
Among the cast, Gilbert resident and Mesa Community College freshman Parker Nuthall will be playing dual roles as Victor Frankenstein and Mary Shelley’s husband Percy while Gilbert resident Brett Small will be playing the creature.
Mesa thespians in the cast include Paula Connors, Erin Garner, Sydney Glenn, Caitlin Laidig, Danica Rauch, Matix Williams and Lee Olsen.