Gay Bride of Frankenstein
nytheatre.com review by David Vining
September 30, 2009
Gay Bride of Frankenstein is a fun, campy send-up of kitschy TV shows, off-kilter musical theater, classic Hollywood movies, and of course Mary Shelley. This Is Not The Gay Bride of Frankenstein You Might Be Expecting. This is a public service announcement, not a warning. I liked this goofy, energetic show. But it owes more to Evil Dead: The Musical than La Cage Aux Folles and would be more accurately, though admittedly less flashily, titled Fanboy Lesbian Scooby-Doo Bride of Frankenstein. And if that seems like fun to you, you're in for a treat.
Gay Bride is a rock musical that follows the exploits of four high school friends on one fateful Halloween. The story isn't really the point here, though is does (basically) follow the story of the Frankenstein Monster's undead bride and her rejection of him in favor of... another.
Based on Dan Drew's graphic novel, this production at the New York Musical Theater Festival delivers laughs and a spunky rock score that keep the energy high and the audience engaged. The cast is universally strong, with subtle comic timing that highlights the many one-liners without overplaying the gentle (and not-so-gentle) nods to pop culture.
Emma Hunton is the standout vocalist in the lead role of goth-girl Edna, and her sly delivery of ironic punch lines aids this production to no end. Only her tendency to play especially earnest moments to the floor keeps her from stealing the show outright.
The singing is first-rate all around, including a surprisingly well-tuned ballad by Christopher Hudson Myers as comic-relief stoner Hairy. The perky Ashley Kate Adams, as the titular Bride, turns in a solid performance, giving enough emotional reality to carry the plot and singing her duets very well, though her jokes sometimes fall a bit flat. Darryl Winslow provides needed comedy glue in several roles. Jeremiah James, another fine voice, hams it up as a Michael Ball-ish villain, but it seems like there is more to be had in this over-the-top role. The same can be said for Jonathan B. Wright, who is great in moments but is so low-key he is almost nonexistent in others.
Amanda Busjak deserves special mention for her fun, surprising costumes that not only compliment but enhance greatly the mood and look of the show. She also manages to include a few jokes of her own in the designs, which is a credit to her skill and talent.
Overall, Gay Bride is cute, adorable even. It provides many chuckles and a couple of good songs, but lacks a real showstopper. Writer/band leader/musical director Billy Butler and his band rock out pretty good, but the songwriting and lyrics are seldom more than adequate. The end of Act One calls out for a big musical number, and the brief static scene that takes place seems like a placeholder. Only the house lights alert the audience that intermission has arrived.
It is difficult to tell whether this was a choice by director Stephen Nachamie, or a result of the festival production, or if the musical is just in need of a rewrite. Indeed the show seems like it could easily grow and benefit from a larger, flashier production. With a bit of rewriting I think it could have one. There is something to be said for scrappy festival productions, and there are several nice touches here, most of which involve the use of Drew's drawings as animated backdrops, and even a few virtual characters that reinforce the comic book ambiance nicely.
Choreographer Adrienne Maitland is, if anything, underutilized. The dance numbers she has created stand out as fun, energetic, and innovative. But the staging of some of the musical numbers, with the notable exception of a fun Scooby-style chase in Act Two, is uninspiring. The end of the first act particularly could use Maitland's touch, for instead of dancing or even moving, there is a good deal of standing about in time to the music.
This is a fun show, and really the perfect thing to be part of NYMF. Does it need a little work? Sure. Is it worth it? Absolutely. And it showcases a lot of young talent. Butler has created a silly and satisfying yarn that holds together well and a score that is one song short of total awesomeness. Check it out.