When you think of fun musicals for Halloween time, “Rocky Horror Picture Show” comes to mind for many. But what if you’re looking for a show that you can bring the whole family to? Riddlesbrood Touring Theater Company has the answer: “Frankenstein Rocks!”
“Frankenstein Rocks” wasn’t specifically written as a response to “Rocky Horror,” but the two share a rock and roll musical vibe and storylines that work well during Halloween season. Riddlesbrood and Mainstage Center for the Arts bring the production to the Dennis Flyer Theater at Camden Community College for three performances over the weekend of October 21.
The story revolves around the work-obsessed, mad Dr. Frankenstein himself, his loyal assistant and fun loving sidekick, Egor, and his flirtatious maid, Hildegarde, as they try to help the doctor create a new, improved monster. Meanwhile, a local town legend and wartime hero, Baron Bratwurst, is called upon to investigate the recent mysterious murders that have plagued the villagers’ quiet little town. Will the Doctor succeed this time? Will the killer be caught? Will the Baron put an end to all this madness?
Based in New Jersey, Riddlesbrood presents comedies and murder mysteries and performs throughout the tri-state area. A few years ago, long-time company member Brian Albert came up with the idea to create a murder mystery featuring Frankenstein that could be performed around Halloween time. The production, “Frankenmurder,” would eventually grow into “Frankenstein Rocks.”
“In 2015, we were working with The Strand in Lakewood, NJ and they wanted to do a large scale Halloween production that year,” explained Ryan Long (a.k.a. Clyde P. Riddlesbrood), executive director at Riddlesbrood. “So what we did was take the core of the ‘Frankenmurder’ show and basically blew it out. We turned it into a mainstage production over the course of about a year. We kind of rewrote it, but we left the funny, improvisational core. So, the main principles are still that silly, wacky, zany kind of ‘Airplane’ and ‘Ace Ventura, Pet Detective’ kind of humor.”
What separates “Frankenstein Rocks” from other shows is the music. In promotions, the company describes it as “the musical for people who don’t like musicals.” All of the music was written by Brian Albert, who used to play in bands years ago and brought his experiences to the production
“The music in ‘Frankenstein Rocks’ is a bit of a throwback to the 80s,” said Albert. “My inspirations are The Ramones, Twisted Sister, Motley Crue, AC/DC, Quiet Riot, and, of course, the king of horror rock himself, Alice Cooper.”
Long describes the music as a comic version of “Young Frankenstein” meets Kiss. “It has a lot of the funny humor – the silly, zany characters – but then it has knock your socks off rock and roll cool music in it too.”
Unlike the music in “Rocky Horror,” the songs in “Frankenstein Rocks” follows the Riddlesbrood code. The company believes in creating shows that are fun for the entire family. Long says some humor might involve double entendres that go over a kid’s head, but the company doesn’t believe in offending people. So, you won’t find vulgarity, cursing, or overtly sexual situations in their shows.
“I do like ‘Rocky Horror,’” added Long. “But it’s certainly not for kids. It’s very much for adults. Frankenstein Rocks has the cool energy and rock and roll vibe that ‘Rocky Horror’ has, but without all of the sexual stuff.”
One of the most unique attributes of Riddlesbrood’s show is in the way they incorporate children from the Mainstage for the Arts Performing Arts Academy into the show. In a way, there’s a show within the show concept at work.
The play begins with the kids preparing to go trick or treating on Halloween. And when you see the children in the opening number, “It’s Halloween,” in their costumes, you’re seeing their actual Halloween costumes they’ll be wearing this year. Riddlesbrood took their measurements and created Halloween costumes for them to use in the show and while out trick or treating for real.
The play is a hilarious look at the classic story by Mary Shelley that uses the monster and the basic concept as the starting point. Long describes the play as a vehicle for jokes, comic routines, and funny bits — more of an absurd farce than anything else. The setting is Transylvania, but the locals talk like southern hicks and call themselves the Transylvania Dutch.
“I wanted to create a show for Halloween that would become a new tradition for the season that everyone could enjoy,” said Albert. “I was tired of the nearly X-rated ‘Rocky Horror Picture Show.’ And, even though haunted houses and hayrides are a lot of fun, they only last 10 to 25 minutes!”
“’Frankenstein Rocks’ is meant to be something where people can sit down and just have a fun night out,” added Long. “We’re not trying to teach anybody anything or tell anybody anything. There are no moral lessons. It’s just straight up fun; something that lets people forget their troubles for a night.”
Performances take place at the Dennis Flyer Theater (200 College Drive) in Blackwood, NJ. Friday, October 21 at 7 p.m.; Saturday, October 22 matinee show at 1 p.m.; evening show at 7 p.m.. For more information, visit www.riddlesbrood.com/frankenstein or www.mainstage.org/event/frankenstein-rocks.