By Melissa Gemballa
“Frankenstein, The Musical,” a collaboration between the New Kensington Civic Theatre (NKCT) and Penn State New Kensington (PSNK), fittingly finished its run with a matinee performance on Oct. 31, Halloween.
Fog, thick enough to hide a body (maybe several), poured across the stage of the Forum Theatre at the start of Act I, symbolizing in a very literal sense that the issues raised during the two-hour production would not be clearly resolved by curtain call. As Henry, Victor Frankenstein’s trusted friend, fervently declared, “The question is not what you can do; the question is what you should do.”
This adaptation of the original novel by Mary Shelley captures the angst of Victor Frankenstein, driven by his mother’s untimely demise to discover the secret of life. Hesitant to reveal to the world the result of his discovery, the “Creature,” representing a pitiful assemblage of body parts gathered from executed convicts, Frankenstein starts a chain of events that inevitably ends in his sacrificing everything most dear to him.
The cast and ensemble, under the direction of PSNK Theatre Arts Instructor Bill Mitas, consisted of both NKCT and PSNK players. To tell the truth, it was difficult to know which was which without referring to the program denotations, as the talents quite seamlessly blended.
NKCT actor John Paul Bertucci delivered a convincing and compelling performance as the “Creature,” radiating raw emotion with the timbre of his voice and the clench of his fist. His torment was tangible to the audience as he struggled to make sense of his presence in this world. It did not, however, make his actions any less horrifying as he felled victim after innocent victim.
PSNK student Ashley Christenson as Elizabeth, Victor’s childhood sweetheart turned bride, sang flawlessly throughout, most notably in her duet with Henry, portrayed magnificently by PSNK student Michael Loew, “The Hands of Time.”
Not quite measuring up, however, was NKCT actor Rob Stull’s portrayal of Victor Frankenstein. Although I would not call his performance poor, it lacked sufficient spark to make it memorable. His transformation from bright-minded boy to brilliant scientist to broken man was simply not believable, and I found myself fidgeting through his final solo, “The Coming of Dawn.”
NKCT actress Natalie Moretti was arresting as the Bride of Frankenstein as was her (and Bertucci’s) coming-to-life scene. Also enjoyable were the song stylings of NKCT actress Alyssa Bruno and PSNK student Jimmy Baker in “The Music of Love.” Equally commendable were the efforts of the ensemble in a variety of numbers and scenes that ranged from raising a toast to the house of Frankenstein to beating and hanging Justine the Nanny.
The set was appropriately somber (but I am quite partial to castle block and flagstone), and I especially liked the “Creature’s” turret perch, though not so much the miniature gargoyles at the opposite end of the stage. The color and detail of costuming was exquisite on both men and women, as were the makeup and hairstyles. And the technical effects of fog and lightning added much to the production’s atmosphere.
My one complaint in this area concerned the “Creature’s” mask. It was unrealistic from every angle and under every lighting condition, and it detracted from Bertucci’s otherwise outstanding performance. I realize that there was little time for makeup between his appearance as the condemned man and his appearance as the “Creature,” but what I presume was an intricate piece of artistry came off looking (forgive me) like a flesh-colored bra strapped to the man’s face.
Despite this, I applaud the production as a whole and feel that, if box office numbers are any indication, PSNK should play host to this type of joint venture again in the future.
PSNK students will once more retake the stage in December with their production of “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”