Monday, June 16, 2014

Fringe Review: GIRAFFENSTEIN, Frankenstein with Giraffes

James Penca and Edred Utomi. Photo s by Rich Clark.

This original one-act pop musical aims high and often hits its mark although it may not be the musical you think it’s going to be. While it contains a fair amount of wry humor, don’t expect the kind of silliness you found in The Pokemusical, the team’s entry into last year’s Fringe Festival. This twist on the Frankenstein story has a more sophisticated harmonic structure and a richer musical texture that gives it an edge while still delivering a lot of fun for the money.

The ensemble handles the singing beautifully and there is plenty of funny choreography and quirky direction by Joanna Syiek. It’s an all-animal cast so they’ve also found creative ways to modify their appearance which makes for some great sight gags. Forearm crutches, high heels and grease paint are the main elements for the giraffes; boot walker casts and football shoulder pads complete Josh Hillinger’s transformation into a rhino; and rhinestones, black leather pants and fur turn Seth Salsbury into the kind of lion who would be completely at home in a revival of CATS. (Someone cast that boy in Rocky Horror Picture Show already. Hed make a great Frank N. Furter).

Seth Salsbury

Giraffenstein follows the callous Dr. Giraffenstein (James Penca) and his failed attempts to create a superior being, in this case the first giraffe who can eat from the top of the tree, and raises questions about how much responsibility we have to that which we create. When its jokes land it is hilarious but the humor is still hit or miss.

The tone of the book is often quite dark and there are gaps in the story that could use more explanation. It’s unclear why the doctor’s fiancé (Katharine Kelly McDonough) agreed to marry him in the first place since all she does is complain about him, or why the Monster (Edred Utomi) tells Dr. Giraffenstein he’ll never see him again but then comes back to confront him near the end of the story. The show currently has a running time of about 75 minutes so there is plenty of room for it to expand. Odd though it is, Giraffenstein still has a lot going for it.

There are lessons about acceptance and standing up for yourself, as well as how important it is to find a place we can call home. Technically, this is also a good example of how to create a movable set on a budget that gets the job done and still delights with its ingenuity. Two reversible set pieces are hand-painted to create the expansiveness of the Serengeti and they even manage to make the sun rise in a creative way.

James Penca, Edred Utomi and Josh Hillinger

L-R: Kelley Dorney, Ian Klingenberg, Kelsey Schulte
and Katie DeShan

Katharine Kelly McDonough and James Penca

Kelley Dorney and Kelsey Schulte

James Penca and Edred Utomi

Book and music: Alex Syiek
Direction and musical staging: Joanna Syiek

Musical direction: Jennifer Lin
Sound Design: Corwin Evans
Set and Lighting Design: Eric Mitchell

June 8 - 29, 2014
Lillian Theatre, 1076 Lillian Way
Los Angeles, CA 90038
Tickets are $10 at

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