It’s opening night in New York City, and it took decades to get here. No, I’m not referring to New York’s formidable midtown traffic. Tonight’s Off-Broadway production of “Frankenstein” has been nearly 40 years in the making.
It started when I saw a short-lived Broadway production of a play based on Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein.” The story resonated with me for a couple of reasons. I was a grad student at Harvard working on my Ph.D. in physics. I was far from home and far from the young woman I loved. Like Victor Frankenstein, the protagonist of Shelley’s novel, I was alone and isolated.
As I watched the play that day, I could hear the story sing in my head as a musical. And soon I began writing down the notes.
You see, I’m not just a theater-goer in my free time. I’m also a composer and playwright. Science and music are two channels through which I express myself, and those passions actually met in the unlikeliest of places: an ExxonMobil research lab, where I’m a hydrocarbon physicist.
It was 1990, and I had been slowly putting together my first draft of the musical. I was trying to figure out how to bring it to life, and someone suggested I make it an after-work activity for my colleagues. I felt kind of funny throwing the idea out there but 65 people volunteered, who were excited about helping me do the show right! These engineers, physicists and chemists were also actors, singers, stage managers and makeup artists. We converted the lecture hall at my office into a theatre and performed an early version of my work.
As much as I loved writing music, I took a long hiatus to focus on my family and career. For a decade, my music gathered dust as I got married, raised children and researched and published papers on wax crystallization, polymers and asphaltenes.
Then, finally, I pulled out my music and began writing more seriously. It took some maturing as a writer, learning about structuring a musical piece of work and connecting with the theatre community. I discovered that when you join the words and the music as equal partners in a story, there’s nothing more creatively fulfilling.
So back to tonight. Although my day job is to study the physical properties of organic molecules, tonight I’m a composer and writer, watching my labor of love come to fruition. It’s surreal thinking how far it’s progressed since my colleagues and I performed that early version more than 25 years ago. I relate to Victor yet again as my creation comes to life.
The curtain draws open. As I watch the actors move in time with my music and lyrics, I can’t help but think of the science of the stage. I’ll always be a scientist, but tonight I’m a composer.
“Frankenstein” is currently running at the St. Luke’s Theatre, 308 W. 46th St. in New York, on Monday evenings. www.TheFrankensteinMusical.com
Hero image: Credit: Adam Smith Jr. (in photo: Jonathan Cobrda as Victor and Danny Bristoll as the Creature)