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Monster mash
Mary Shelley and Stephen Sondheim are onstage this weekend
'Side By Side By Sondheim' at Asbury Memorial Church

November's first theater productions, both opening this weekend, are entirely dissimilar in all respects but one: They both have to do with monsters.

Asbury Memorial Church's fall musical is Side By Side By Sondheim, a revue celebrating the creative wellspring that is composer Stephen Sondheim - a monstrous talent in the world of musical theater.

And at Savannah State University, professor David I.L. Poole is grafting new skin onto Frankenstein, one of literature's most beloved monster stories, for the college's Players By the Sea.

Frankenstein is, of course, an adaptation of Mary Shelley's classic horror yarn about a scientist - Dr. Victor Frankenstein - who has created a living, breathing person from the pieces of dead ones. But it's a hideous thing.

R.N. Sandberg's adaptation is what's known as memory play. Like Shelley's novel, it's told in flashbacks.

"It's the closest adaptation, actually, to the novel," explains Poole. "The novel actually takes place on a ship in the Arctic."

In the SSU telling, "Frankenstein has been chasing the creature in the Arctic; he collapses and these explorers on a ship find him. And he tells the ship's captain, Walton, what has happened, and who this creature is that's out there."

The cast includes Savannah State University students Jadon Forbes, D'Amber Guice, Adriana Rogers, and Michael Knowles. Matt O'Boyle, from the theater program at SCAD, is guesting as Dr. Frankenstein.

Poole has given the play a "Brechtian feel," with the audience actually seated on the stage, and the stage itself extended into the house.

Frankenstein has elements of science fiction, Gothic horror - and Christian morality.

"I feel that Frankenstein is really a story about being God," Poole says. "Messing in something that no one should, which is to bring back the dead. And the ramifications of that.

"And bad parenting, basically. Victor birthed this child, and even though he is a full-grown man, with all this strength and everything, he still is a child and doesn't have a sense of the world.

"The journey of the creature is that he's been abandoned, and all he really wants is to be loved. And he can't ever get it."

In Side By Side By Sondheim, you'll hear some of the most famous and familiar songs from the last 40-plus years of musical theater. The 1976 show includes selections from Follies, Company, West Side Story, A Little Night Music, Gypsy and others - all of it composed by Stephen Sondheim, the genre's most prolific practitioner in the modern era.

It's a revue, not a play. "There is no plotline to the show whatsoever," says Ray Ellis, who's co-directing the Asbury production with Cheri Hester. "The narrator gives you background information on Sondheim, and the songs, and why he wrote them. Cute little anecdotes about his life and how he came to be."

The seven cast members were chosen from the 25 that showed up for auditions - a relatively large turnout, considering there's no real dialogue - Side By Side is a show for singers, not actors.

"In this show," Ellis says, "you're a different character in every song."

Tyler Daugherty, Mickey Dodge, Megan Hamilton, Michael Kent, Mandy Madson, Mark Rand and Elizabeth Zettler are the singers. Pianists Keena Charbonneau and Kelly Blackmarr Carlile will be onstage, too.

Ellis, who's the choral director and drama teacher at South Effingham High School, is also Asbury's music director. Hester, who has a resume filled with New York theater productions, is married to the church's minister, Billy Hester.

"We fit very well together," Ellis says. "Cheri has a lot more experience, professionally. She's a choreographer, I'm a musician. She's taken the lead on the blocking and I've headed more towards the production end, with the lights and the sound and focusing on that stuff.

"It's very much a co-directorship. We support each other very well; her strong suits are not mine, and vice versa. We couldn't have done it without each other, put it that way."

Savannah State Players By the Sea: Frankenstein

When: At 8 p.m. Nov. 3-5, 3 p.m. Nov. 6, Kennedy Fine Arts Building, 3219 College St.

Tickets: $10 public, $5 students, faculty, staff, seniors and military

Phone: (912) 358-3190.

Side By Side By Sondheim

Where: Asbury Memorial United Methodist Church, 1008 E. Henry St.

When: At 8 p.m. Nov. 4, 5, 11, 12, 13; at 3 p.m. Nov. 6 and 13

Tickets: $10

Phone: (912) 233-3595