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William Electric Black’s Frankenstein musical reanimates classic tale

BY CLAUDE SOLNIK | Emmy award-winning composer and playwright William Electric Black has brought many characters to the stage. But now he has brought a musical based on Frankenstein to Theater for the New City, a rollicking rock and roll reimagining of the story and character.

“The Frankenstein Project,” running through March 10, is the latest in what can easily be called “Frankenstein fever” as this character and story capture attention in a world of artificial intelligence where tech provides promise and potential problems.

“The characters use the exact lines from the novel in the songs and scenes,” William Electric Black, who also directed the 90-minute show, said.

Scientist Victor Frankenstein in the book and musical, which has 13 songs, says, “I came upon the figure of a man.” This becomes the basis for a song as the monster boards a ship to bid farewell to his creator.

“Did I request thee maker from clay to mold me man?” the ensemble sings. “Did I solicit thee from darkness to promote me?”

This production, at once original and rooted in the original book, brings back the rich voice and movement staging once used by The Open Theater.

William Electric Black reignites Mary Shelley’s gothic novel, giving it new life with songs, as well as staging loosely inspired by the Downtown scene that gave rise to such productions as “The Serpent,” by Jean-Claude van Italie, directed by Joseph Chaikin.

Part of an ongoing Frankenstein renaissance, the revival of interest includes Emma Stone as female Frankenstein Bella Baxter in Yorgos Lanthimos’s “Poor Things.” “Lisa Frankenstein,” another recently released movie, is about a reanimated corpse, starring Cole Sprouse and Kathryn Newton.

That’s on top of Frankenstein-inspired works over the years, from Mel Brooks’s movie and musical “Young Frankenstein,” along with a 1980s Broadway production by Victor Gialanella, all following the 1931 movie starring Boris Karloff, based on a 1927 play.

The monster (Romy Turner), standing, Mary Shelley (Annabelle Skala), seated, and Victor Frankenstein (Mario Greiner), kneeling, in “The Frankenstein Project.” (Photo by Desiree Conston)

They all date back to Shelley’s 1818 novel “Frankenstein or the Modern Prometheus” about scientist Victor Frankenstein and his not-so-malicious monster. She wrote it at age 20, after staying at Frankenstein Castle, where experiments had been done.

The book was published anonymously, with a second edition crediting Shelley, after a play, “Presumption; or, the Fate of Frankenstein,” was performed without her permission, since none was required at that time.

The 1831 edition is the one most widely used today, although Shelley never benefited financially as one might expect. After the third edition of the novel, she sold her copyright to a publishing house for £30, according to the DeWitt LLP law firm.

“The copyright for the original story is now in the public domain, as a classic work of literature,” according to the law firm.

Universal Studios in the 1930s adapted Dracula and Frankenstein for the screen, creating the green-hued, zipper-necked monster famous today. Because this version of Frankenstein was not “included in Shelley’s original story,” Universal could enforce its copyright on the monster, according to DeWitt.

“Frankenstein,” with book, music and lyrics by Eric B. Sirota, is another musical retelling of the story.

“My musical theater adaptation of Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein,’ which had a successful, three-year Off Broadway run in New York City, was reimagined for screen as a movie, with an expanded Phantom-like orchestral score,” Sirotta said of his version, available through StreamingMusicals on Vimeo.

Ian Ellis James, a.k.a. William Electric Black, is a prolific playwright and New York University Tisch School, department of dramatic writing faculty member. His musical, using two platforms and a 12-person ensemble, showcases choreography by Lauren Barette, Gianna Bartolini and dance captain Amanda Bazques and a dozen songs. Music direction is by William Wagner

His musical beautifully blends Mary Shelley’s original text with new music to tell what Black calls a “Gothic tale of revenge after Victor’s reckless use of knowledge.”

The show is heavy on imagination and spectacle, featuring cast members transforming into dogs pulling a sledge, galloping horses, dancing grave diggers and crawling, demonic bridesmaids when the monster’s bride comes to life.

The cast — which mixes spectacle, song and story seamlessly — includes Alberto Santiago, Aleesia Hernandez, Alina Garcia, Annabelle Skala, Indigo Phillips, Julianne Darden, Juliette Kulikovs, Kamryn Sarratt, Mario Greiner, Megan Walker, Romy Turner and Amanda Vazquez.

Black, along with cast and musicians, brings what he accurately calls a “Jim Henson-like imagineering to the show,” although it’s more like Jim Henson meets Jimi Hendrix. Lighting is by Alexander Bartenieff, costumes by Desiree Conston, props by Susan Hemley, makeup by Marissa Johnson and Morgan Cunning, graphics by Erikka James and Josh Wehle and tech direction by Mark Marcante. Dhruv Barot is the stage manager Megan Horan is the board operator.

“Perhaps ‘The Frankenstein Project’ is needed as a warning of what is to come in our present-day misuse of fact and fiction,” Black said. “Is social media the new monster that we have left alone and unwanted?”

“The Frankenstein Project” is running through March 10, Thurs. to Sat. at 8 p.m., Sun. at 3 p.m., at Theater for the New City, 155 First Ave., at E. 10th Street. Tickets are $18 general admission, $15 seniors and students. For more information, call 212-254-1109 or visit

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