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Eric B. Sirota on ‘Frankenstein: A New Musical’

17 Aug, 2009    added by : Paul Hansen
GUESTS

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INTERVIEWER

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LANGUAGE

English

Original Network

screenpicks.com

ScreenPicks recently posed some questions to Eric B. Sirota, lyricist, composer and book writer of Frankenstein: A New Musical. The production is currently performing in New York and was previously reviewed on this site.

Based on Mary Shelley’s novel, the musical portrays scientist Victor Frankenstein’s attempt to create an artificial man. Sirota brings an interesting perspective to this adaptation of Shelley’s work. He himself is a scientist having been trained as a physicist.

Why did you want to create a musical based on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein?

In 1981, during winter break of my first year of grad school in physics, my mom took me to a preview of the short-lived Broadway production of Victor Gialanella’s play, based on Mary Shelley’s novel.  With the story so filled with intense emotion, I thought, “Why AREN’T they singing?!”  I re-read the book and heard the story sing in my head as a musical.  Like Victor Frankenstein, I was a scientist working towards my degree, far from home and far from the girl I loved, and the story spoke to me both intellectually and emotionally.

It took many years to write the first draft and then, even more, to develop it to the form that it is in now. I originally intended for my musical to be “true to Mary Shelley’s novel.”  But as an adaptation for the stage and creating a compelling work of musical theatre for the 21st century, certain choices had to be made.  I prefer now to say that the work intends to “honor its source material.”

What particular themes is the musical exploring? Are there elements of the show that are particularly relevant for today?

Some people have used the Frankenstein story to stoke fear of science and technology.  But Frankenstein’s Creature was not a piece of technology, rather, a living being, and the musical I wrote is about the human need for love and companionship.

Victor Frankenstein does have the hubris to “play god” and falls terribly short.  His flaw was not in his determination to create life, but rather in his abandonment of his creation.  His scientific work did not make a monster, but his lack of humanity toward his “child” did.

You have a background as a scientist.  How did that effect your creation of the musical?

I didn’t write it for the 2018 bicentennial of the publication of Mary Shelley’s novel.  I began to write it 37 years ago when I was just beginning my graduate work in physics.

Needless to say, with total immersion in studying the physics of liquid crystals, progress writing a musical was slow.  Ten years to a first draft, and with the enthusiastic support of my colleagues in the research lab where I work, we put on an amateur production.  Then a long hiatus focusing on family and physics; and then actually learning the craft of structuring and writing works of musical theatre.  In this field, I was a student again.  With mentorship from many in the industry, I also learned the business aspects of developing a musical.

What was Victor Frankenstein’s failings as a scientist?  From the Frankenstein novel, we see the importance of collaboration, peer review and mentorship.  Victor did not have those.   So Hollywood’s “Igor” does not and cannot exist, as Frankenstein’s work in solitude/isolation is key to the plot of the story. But Frankenstein’s Creature was not a piece of technology, but rather a living being, and the musical I wrote is about the human need for love and companionship.

Are there any particular songwriters and lyricists that you especially admire?

I came to writing for musical theater initially from the music side, having studied composition and with an interest in opera through my teen years.  I wanted to take people on emotional journeys, and I knew I could do that with music, but there are also stories I wanted to tell.  Music can stir the soul and is a universal language.  But when you find the words that join the music as equal partners, and in service of the story, propelling it forward in both plot and emotional arc; nothing is more creatively fulfilling. I just had to learn how to do that – which took me a few decades.

It was Andrew Lloyd Weber’s Jesus Christ Superstar which inspired me and taught me that such an emotional musically-driven score could live in the contemporary world of musical theater.  Later, I became equally inspired by Stephen Sondheim, especially his lyrics.

Is there anything in general that you would like to tell audiences about the musical?

For many of your readers whose knowledge of Frankenstein might be the Boris Karloff movie, or more likely the Mel Brooks parody of it, let me first say that this is not that.  No flat head.  No bolts.  And no Igor! This Frankenstein is a sweeping romantic musical based on Mary Shelley’s novel, which happens to be celebrating the bicentennial of its publication this year. This work attempts to honor that source material while adapting it into a compelling work of musical theatre. The plot:  having lost his mother at a young age, Victor Frankenstein seeks to end human mortality and arrogantly enters territory beyond his control. While he enjoys unconditional love from Elizabeth, he grants none to his creation.

Would you like to share with us what your future projects are?

I am planning to have a staged reading of Go, My Child, my new musical about the untold story of biblical Sarah, Abraham and their parents.  Themes include infertility, xenophobia and the search for truth.

My musical Your Name On My Lips had a showcase production at Theater for the New City last year.  It is about a self-taught painter, struggling to get into an art institute; while fighting to hold onto the love of his life, as the materialistic world tugs at her.  I’m looking to develop that further with an opportunity for a full production

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