Batavia Players bring classic tale to life with ‘Frankenstein: A New Musical’

Nov 2, 2017

BATAVIA – When Jocelyn Coburn agreed to take on the role of Agatha in a new Batavia Players production, she listened to the soundtrack to become familiar with the show.

“Frankenstein, A New Musical” offered up a slate of unfamiliar songs that she has grown to appreciate.

“They were very creepy, yet there was some kind of beauty to it. It was terrifying and yet majestic,” the 14-year-old said during rehearsal at Harvester 56 Theater. “There are some parts that are scary, like the hangings and thunder and lightning; and there are other parts that kids would enjoy.”

Frankenstein comes to life at 7:30 p.m. Friday at the theater, 56 Harvester Ave., and continues at 7:30 p.m. Saturday and Nov. 10 and 11 and at 2 p.m. Sunday.

Based on the Mary Shelley classic novel of the same name, the plot involves Victor – or doctor – Frankenstein, who fervently proves that he can create life from a corpse. He later ends up rejecting his hideous Creature, who in turn takes its revenge out on the creator’s family. There is an eventual lesson about love through the whole mad-scientist-like experiment.

Agatha lives in a cabin in the woods with her father who is blind. The Creature ends up hiding in a woodshed next door. So desperate to have companionship, it learns their language and tries to forge a friendship with the blind man while Agatha is gone. The Creature’s enthusiasm foils his ultimate goal, which leaves Agatha in some distress.

There are some parts of the show that Jocelyn found most challenging.

“The screaming,” she said with a strained whisper. “I’m kind of shy. As a child I was always bubbly and happy … I just put that into my acting.”

Dale resident Emily Crawford plays Justine Moritz, the governess of Victor’s younger brother William. She gets pulled deeply into the Creature’s plot after William is discovered dead in some nearby woods. Although musicals are, obviously, centered around song, this show is “a story through music,” she said, versus having some spoken lines to connect the words and emotions with a particular rhythm or pregnant pause.

Her favorite part is when the Creature comes to life, and the song “Dear Victor/Burn the Laboratory.”

“It’s a really dynamic song; it’s going to be pretty flashy,” Crawford said. “It’s a really cool score: dissonant but it’s got that eerie beauty. It’s definitely a tale of a man’s struggle with his own ego and his own passion, and finding self-control. There’s a creature in everybody’s life that we all can relate to.”

Eleven-year-old Peyton Woeller enjoys himself on stage and prefers to sing all of the time. He has had to stretch himself for the role of William. The character, perhaps because he has an older, highly intelligent brother, is akin to asking lots of questions, whereas Peyton is not.

“I’m getting a grip on who he is,” the Batavia student said. “It’s a really cool show; scary for some people but with comedy mixed in with it.”

There are some surprises, he added with a mischievous grin.

Victor Frankenstein is played by Medina resident Richard Ferris, who sees his character as “genius but myopic.”

“By the time he sees the damage he’s caused, it’s too late,” Ferris said.

An Orleans County paralegal, Ferris has been a Batavia Players regular the last three years, though he wouldn’t even sing in public three years before that. Credit karaoke for the transformation. After getting compliments for “All of Me” and “In My Hands,” he auditioned for Lake Plains Players’ “Les Miserables” and never looked back.

“It’s a good form of escapism,” he said.

The show begins where the story ended, with a dying Victor adrift on an ice floe. Captain Robert Walton, played by Director Patrick Burk, nurses Victor as he shares a magnificent yet horrific story about his monster. The captain then retells the story in a letter to his sister and it is seen via flashback as he writes it down.

Burk is excited to bring this show, which has never been produced in this area, to Western New York. The talented cast interlaces many family members – husbands and wives, sons, daughters and grandchildren – into the mix of dark and moving action.

“We’ve done horror before and it’s always been very well received,” Burk said. “This is a beautiful musical.”

There were a number of things to consider, such as fitting the show into the black-box set-up and having a cast with young voices be able to stand up to the vocal strength of adults, he said.

“Casting is very hard for this show; there are a lot of small, unique parts with a definite need to be a certain way. Making people fit is always an issue,” he said. “Victor is a larger than life scientist and creates a Creature that’s larger than life. The vocals are very difficult and we auditioned a lot of people … from an eight-county area. The cast is incredible.”

Tickets are $15 adults, $12 students and seniors. They may be purchased online at DailyNewsTickets.com or at the Harvester 56 box office from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Tuesdays.

By Joanne Beck, The Daily News