By the time Lamb Theatre premieres its season opener "Monster Maker," the play's writer Stephen Dolginoff will likely cry out, "It's alive! It's alive!" At least, The Weekender thinks he should.
It's the play's world premiere after all. And that's something to be proud of. The actors and crew of "Monster Makers" can officially call themselves the original cast. But that's not without heaves of pressure to make sure the musical turns out just right.
The show details the lives of three famous movie makers -- director F.W. Murnau, who created the 1922 film "Nosferatu"; makeup artist Jack Pierce, known for his work in "Frankenstein"; and actor Peter Cushing, who made many appearances in Hammer Films.
The Weekender asked the actors and director about their experiences creating "Monster Makers."
What kind of dynamics come from a play split into three parts?
Matt Cihak: It’s almost as if the audience is getting three separate shows in one.
Jessica Wheeler: And yet they’re all tied together. There are jokes from the first act that come to fruition in the third act.
Do these characters ever meet up at all?
Michael Powell: They do relate. They do all connect.
Jessica Wheeler: These are three real people. A lot of the other people in the show are also real people. It’s inspired by real facts and public domain, but not necessarily held hostage by that either.
What sorts of challenges arrived from performing in the world premiere of “Monster Makers”?
Matt Cihak: There’s no original cast recording to listen to over and over again like “Rent.” That’s definitely been a challenge.
Jessica Wheeler: But we can also email Stephen [Dolginoff] and ask him, “What the heck does this mean?”
Michael Powell: That is a unique aspect to be able to speak with the writer himself.
Jessica Wheeler: We’re planning to get it set up so Stephen can watch. So no pressure there.
Has he been involved with the rehearsal process at all?
Michael Powell: When it comes to the rehearsal process and when it comes to music and lines, he sends revisions if he needs to change lines or lyrics.
Are these all originals songs included in the musical?
Jessica Wheeler: Yeah, it’s all Stephen. Story and music. This is his brain child.
What can hardcore movie buffs enjoy about this play?
Michael Powell: It shows it from the opposite side of the screen. Whereas, when you’re watching a movie, you’re seeing the finished work. In “Monster Makers,” it’s the filming portion of it or what happened during filming.
Russ Wooley: Yeah, the real backstory. [F.W.] Murnau did not have the rights to “Dracula.” He couldn’t just change the name to “Nosferatu.” Mrs. Bram Stoker got an anonymous letter and she sued and won.
Jessica Wheeler: They even destroyed the prints.
Russ Wooley: Everything was supposed to have been destroyed. Then there’s Jack Pierce who created all those incredibly iconic makeup designs and got nothing for it. Universal copyrighted it. He died pretty much penniless. For this show, we cannot display or use the [image] of Frankenstein’s monster without paying Universal.
Jessica Wheeler: Or Boris Karloff! I think it’s a fun show and it’s got funny parts in it. You’ve got film which is such a permanent thing, but you have these three men who have created famous monsters that are struggling to ascertain their legacy. Will this be remembered?
Russ Wooley: The show is not a dark and gritty drama by no means. It’s a spoofy parody.
Jessica Wheeler: More Bruce Cambell than Wes Craven.
What’s it like to have that contrast between freakish monsters and lighthearted comedy?
Russ Wooley: I think it makes for a very entertaining evening in the theater. You also get a little film history.
What’s it like to have a show where five people are playing fifteen different parts?
Russ Wooley: It’s a real ensemble piece. Everyone plays a different person for Act One and Act Two and Act Three. They start in Germany, so everyone has a German accent. Then you go to 1931 in the United States, but the director of “Frankenstein” is British. Then you go to London where everyone is British. You travel with the actors and the actors have to become all these people.
Brian Hamman: It really does feel like you’re doing three shows. I’m learning two different dialects and it’s a challenge.
What are some challenges musically?
Donny Short: I would say the biggest challenge with the music is there’s no preexisting version of this music. We’re creating what they will eventually put in the score. It’s not like we can drive around and listen to the music. We are really having to dig into our musical backgrounds to really enhance [the show]. Act Three has a song that’s written in a Burt Bacharach style. Unfortunately, not a lot of people were alive when—
Russ Wooley: I was.
Donny Short: Nobody on the stage was born when that happened. So we had to do some research.
Jessica Wheeler: “Austin Powers” helped with that.
Donny Short: The music is very percussive in some places and very ballad-y in others. It’s all brand new so there’s no reference for us to base our performance off of. We also work really closely with Stephen. As the music director, I have quite the inbox with Stephen's stuff. Russ is able to coloborate with him. Even though he's in New York City, he's still very much a part of this production. He still wants to be involved. Us being successful equates to him being successful.