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A CurtainUp Review
Mary Shelley's Frankenstein
By Elyse Sommer
Having Robert Fairchild playing the starring role in the Ensemble for the Romantic Century's Mary Shelley's Frankenstein , has brought a starry buzz to this second offering of their season at the Pershing Square Signature Center's Irene Diamond Stage. Though this is a double premiere as choreographer and Off-Broadway performer for the former principal dancer of the New York City Ballet, he's already wowed musical theater audiences with his roles in An American in Paris on Broadway and Oklahoma in London.
Of course, with Fairchild portraying the monster, don't expect him to look monstrously awful. It's the feelings evoked by the movements he's choreographed are designed to depict the monster's feelings and evoke the image and terrible unintended consequences of Victor Frankenstein's scientific experiment.
The trim and attractive Fairchild dances up a storm, and his contorted, tortured movements evoke the ugliness and self-loathing of the creature often referred to by ITS inventor's surname. One of the most striking images partners Fairchild with a projected shadow figure of his monster persona. You don't need words to convey his horror and despair at seeing that reflection of himself in that watery background— and with it, the realization that this is the way he looks to others.
The choreography throughout this two-act ballet-concert-play in two acts vibrates with his incredible physical vigor. As Fairchild himself noted in an interview, it's a good thing for his well-being that this is a brief run.
As scripted by the Ensemble's founder Eve Wolf, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein certainly adds another ambitious work to the company's hallmark merger of Chamber music concertizing with multi-media historic story telling (A more succinct description would call it a chamber-ama). Thanks to Director Donald T. Sanders who also helmed the company's season premiere Van Gogh's Ear , Wolf's concept, though overly ambitious in all it tries to weave together, is actually fairly easy to follow.
Wolf's structure is three-fold: First, we have the story of how Mary Shelley (Mia Vallet) built her "dream" into the Gothic masterpiece it became, with the help and encouragement of her husband Percy Bysshe Shelley (Paul Wesley). Secondly, Mary's own story is interspersed with actual excerpts of the story she's writing during which Vallet and Wesley, along with stage veteran Rocco Sisto play key characters and sequences. Third, and best, are the musical and Monster sequences.
Vanessa James has effectively used the spacious stage of the Signature Center's largest theater for Mary Shelley's own story to play out at either side of a central space with a platform and upstage backdrop for David Bengali's evocative mood and scene supporting projections and Fairchild's leaps and swivels. Wearing her second hat as costume designers, her costumes for Krysty Swann's beautifully sung arias are especially lush.
Two of the virtuoso musicians delivering the Lizt-Bach-Schubert excepts — Oboist Kemp Jernigan and pianist Steven Lin — and organ and harpsichord player Parker Ramsay is well positioned in a small loge next to the theater's entrance.
There's no denying that Mary Shelly's Frankenstein isn't likely to be a must-see for the average tourist or out for a bouncy good time theater goers. Even classic music enthusiasts don't all love chamber music as much as the better known operatic arias of Mozart, Verdi Puccini. What's more compelling as Fairchild's choreography is some of it does at times feel a bit repetitious.
But my quibbles not withstanding, there are plenty of highlights to remember. In addition to that already mentioned duet between Fairchild and his projected "real" monster self, there's an equally devastating one in which we see the monster dancing with a child in his arms (one of three young child actors in the cast). That scene connects Mary Shelley's own tragic loss of her three young children. Though the Shelley children died of malaria, Wolf's story links Mary's last doomed child to the monster borne in her imagination. It's moments like this that validate the Ensemble for the Romantic Century's unique approach to musical storytelling.
The Ensemble's final presentation at the Signature Pershing Square Center, None But the Lonely Heart, explores the unusual relationship between Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky and a woman named Madame von Meck. For an idea of what to expect, check out my review of an earlier and probably more modestly staged production in the Berkshires. here.
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Mary Shelley's Frankenstein
Written by Eve Wolf
Directed by Donald T. Sanders
Choreographed by Robert Fairchild, who also dances and performs the title role
Other Cast Members: Mia Vallet (Mary Shelley, Agatha), Paul Wesley (Percy Shelley, Victor Frankenstein, Felis) Rocco Sisto (Dr. Lacey, William Godwin), Shif Ajay (Child), Peyton Lusk(Child), Avey Noble (Child), Krysty Swann (Mezzo-Soprano)
Musicians: Kemp Jernigan (Oboe), Steven Lin (Piano), Parker Ramsey (Organ, Harpsichord).
Sets & costumes:Vanessa James
Sound: Bill Toles
Projections: David Bengali
Stage Manager: Emma Ramsay-Saxon
Running Time: 1 hour and 45 minutes, includes 1 intermission
Ensemble for the Romantic Century atthe Pershing Square Signature Center's Irene Diamond Stage
From 12/21/17; opening 12/27/17; closing 1/07/18
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at 12/23/17 press preview.
Music Act I:Liszt Prelude on Bach; Bach/ Silotti: Prelude in B minor; Liszt Waldesrauschen; Schubert: Aufenthalt; Bach concerto in D minor;Bach-Busoni Chaconne
Music Act II: Liszt: The Lugubrious Gondola; Bach: Ebarme dich; Liszt: Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen Variations; Schubert Litanei auf das fest aller seelen
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