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FRANK & STEIN #2 (article first published : 2005-07-15)

In my review of Frank & Stein at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown (see review on the Drama or the Festival pages) I suggested that audiences see the production twice. First time round to enjoy the performance as a whole and the second time, to concentrate on the music.

Frank & Stein opened this evening in Durban at Kwasuka Theatre and so I decided to take my own advice and revisit the production, focusing on the score.

Openly described as being irreverently based on the 1831 Gothic Novel by Mary Shelley, Frank & Stein was first produced in 1988 and directed by Murray McGibbon who is now Professor of Theatre and Drama at Indiana University in the United States. The original cast comprised Ellis Pearson and David Dennis with Anthony Stonier at the piano. It quickly achieved cult status and ran successfully until 1992 with a revival in 1996.

Murray has returned from the US to direct the current revival which features Ben Voss and John van de Ruit. They bring their own energies to the roles created by Ellis Pearson and David Dennis and the run in Grahamstown has honed the performances considerably so that Kwasuka audiences can expect a top-notch production.

Now to the music. The show is played as a movie script and Anthony Stonier is still at the piano for this revival. A considerably talented musician, actor and singer, his role is that of the silent movies pianist who had to accompany the action, providing trills for exciting passages, lyrical melodies for the romantic parts and heavy chords for the scary bits.

The 2005 Frank & Stein piano score has been considerably expanded and makes full – and often, hilarious - use of classic, opera and contemporary music. It ranges from a couple of sonatas, with The Moonlight thrown in for good measure, to Phantom of the Opera and All by Myself. The first scene includes much travelling to the mountains which prompts Comin’ Round the Mountain and the ubiquitous Climb Every Mountain from Sound of Music. Further travelling later in the play is done to the inevitable theme of Chariots of Fire. The student anthem Gaudeamus Igitur heralds a scene in the university while Musetta’s Waltz from La Boheme is a constantly recurring theme. We even get a bit of can-can!

When the monster is created, we hear Born Free while a scene in which Henry Frankenstein and his air-headed fiancée Elizabeth discuss their future incorporates the opening phrase of Wouldn’t It Be Luverly (“All I want is a room somewhere”) gently wafting over their heads. When the monster is calmed by medication, the apt response is Fly Me to the Moon!

As I mentioned in the Grahamstown review, the pace is punishing and between them Ben and John play about 12 roles, sometimes in the same conversation! The production has transposed successfully from PJ’s in Grahamstown to Kwasuka Theatre. My only comment is that the lighting is too low when the monster appears which means that we miss Ben’s wonderful facial expressions as he meets and learns to obey his creator.

Frank & Stein runs at Kwasuka Theatre until August 7. Book at Computicket or call 082 882 9869. If you don’t mind a bit of irreverence and ghoulish humour, you’ll be mad to miss it. – Caroline Smart




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