Frankenstein’d to death? Is he out to kill us or is he just kidding us? In any case he must be a powerful dude, because if your name is Frankenstein, the show must go on. Proof? “The New Mel Brooks Musical Young Frankenstein” and its gothic sibling, “Frankenstein”, a new musical at 37 Arts Theatre are keeping the fires of show biz burning, at least during the strike.
Conceived as an operatic version of Mary Shelley’s gothic tale, the Off Broadway production, “Frankenstein” is an impressive undertaking with nearly every line of dialogue delivered in song. But it’s so heavy handed and dark throughout that one feels that this must be a set up for a parody. That in part is due to Hunter Foster’s Frankenstein. A delightful comedic actor, Foster is terrific in creating naïve nerdy roles as he did in “Little Shop of Horrors”, but he just doesn’t fill Frankenstein’s shoes. As depicted here by author/lyricist Jeffrey Jackson, he is a man of Faustian proportions.
While Foster starts out strong (he’s on stage almost all of the time), he fails to bring a real sense of humanity to the character, especially when it comes to his relationships with his fiancée and the other loved ones, whose destruction he causes. Stephen Blanchard, on the other hand, begins as a real stiff – he’s the Monster after all – but he discovers some depth of emotion beneath his robotic physicality. And Christiane Noll as Victor’s fiancée is a delightful singer. In her encounter with the Monster, she achieves the most radiant moment in the production. We may know what’s to become of their meeting, but she clearly doesn’t, so for once we actually experience the horror rather than anticipating it.
Jackson and his composer Mark Baron demonstrate earnest intentions, but the production seems strangely pumped up. In such a small space, one wonders why they all look like Madonna with little black mikes wrapped around their jaws, or why the choreography seems so stilted. What can one really say about a “Frankenstein” that’s so overly ambitious, when its creators have gone sadly astray delivering that message?
By Isa Goldberg
37 Arts, 450 West 37 Street Between Ninth & Tenth Avenues
Subway: A, C, E to 34 Street- Penn Station
Mon 8pm; Wed 3, 8pm; Thu, Fri 8pm; Sat 2, 8pm; Sun 3pm