Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s 1818 novel “Frankenstein” has been recycled again and again through the centuries and will presumably wind up as a hit stage tuner one of these days. But this ain’t it. We refer to the new musical “Frankenstein,” not the new Mel Brooks musical “Young Frankenstein,” opening Nov. 8. The first to face the critical firing line might better be called “Old Frankenstein,” or perhaps “Olde Frankenstein.” The creators clearly have their eyes on “Les Miserables,” but instead have landed on the heap with other Gothic monster-tales-turned-musicals like “Dracula,” “Dance of the Vampires,” “Lestat” and “Jekyll & Hyde.”
“Frankenstein” comes from a first-time composer, first-time lyricist/librettist, first-time director, first-time choreographer and six first-time producers. Not their first shows ever — everybody concerned has a paragraph-length bio — but their first major New York credits. This in itself is no indication of either quality or lack of it, but under the circumstances is worthy of note. Everyone involved seems to be very much in earnest, and they deserve credit for getting their opus on in a first-class, Off Broadway production.
But there’s little on view, other than some aspects of the physical production, that impresses. The score, by Mark Baron and Jeffrey Jackson, is of the Frank Wildhorn school only without strong melody. There are brief sections where things start to sound interesting, but they are lost in the mix and blasted by the sound system. The lyrics have their moments, but let’s leave it at that (and gloss over such gems as “Do you like being my nanny?”/”It’s a far more challenging job than many.”)
“Jekyll & Hyde,” despite its critical drubbing, attracted a significant band of vehement supporters. This “Frankenstein” will presumably find its own partisans, although in lesser numbers. The plot adheres more closely to the original novel than prior adaptations, which turns out not to be a virtue. (Shelley is not credited on the title page at all.)
Hunter Foster, erstwhile leading man of “Urinetown” and other musicals, does everything he possibly can to breathe life into the proceedings as Victor Frankenstein. Christiane Noll, of “Jekyll & Hyde” fame, has an easier time of it as his beloved Elizabeth, probably because her role is considerably smaller. She comports herself as if she’s in a hit, believably so until the other characters start singing again.
Steve Blanchard, a long-time Beast for the Disney folk, has apparently been instructed to play the Creature as if he’s the Elephant Man just back from the gym.
Kevin Judge’s set is skeletal — two staircases, some platforms, and two projection screens are the major elements — but serves the purpose effectively. The projections by Michael Clark are unusual, giving us the equivalent of motion picture rear projections running in the background. These work surprisingly well — at least from the house seats.
There’s also a novel lighting grid over the central playing area, with 88 instruments beaming down to create some intriguing stage pictures. When theatergoers have time to count lighting fixtures in the flies, though, there’s trouble on deck.