Seated in the front row of Bay Street Theater, year after year, Audrey Owen always knew when it was almost Halloween.Starting at age 4, she watched the goblins, witches, ghouls and monsters sing and dance across the stage—plotting, in rhyme, to stir up mischief, scare children in the night—and, against all odds, find true love.
But she couldn’t surrender to the fantasy entirely. The lead actor looked too familiar. And not because he was dressed up as Frankenstein’s monster.
“It was Craig, one of the kids my mom babysat,” Audrey, now 17, explained. “So I would see him and be, like, ‘That’s Craig, but he’s not Craig. What’s going on? How does he do that?’”
Once she turned 8, the young girl found out. She was officially inducted into the 90-minute monster mash that is “Frankenstein Follies.”
Now in its 20th year, the musical revue—featuring spooky parodies of Broadway hits, cult classics and popular songs, as well as original compositions—will mark the 100th production by Stages, A Children’s Theater Workshop, according to founder Helene Leonard, when it opens on Friday night at the Sag Harbor theater.
The storyline itself is “thin,” Ms. Leonard admitted on Monday during a telephone interview, tied together by Frankenstein’s monster’s search for his bride. But the rest of the show is a pure celebration of everything Halloween, she said, through rock and roll and show tunes—drawing inspiration from “Hair” and “West Side Story” to “Annie” and “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.”
“When I went off to college, my father, who was a director and playwright, created ‘Frankenstein Follies,’” Ms. Leonard recalled. “I was never in it. I never even saw it. He passed away in 1980. He was 52. Cancer. So when I came to East Hampton in 1991, I decided, ‘This is what I want to do. I want to continue his legacy of children’s theater and keep his scripts alive.’”
Before founding Stages in 1994, Ms. Leonard taught at the Hampton Day School, where she first uncovered “Frankenstein Follies” from her father’s stash of plays. She reworked it, updated the cultural references, but never thought it would stick.
“Every year, it evolved. It was not this spectacular, it was not this long, it was not this sophisticated at first,” she said. “It’s become like ‘The Nutcracker,’ where I can’t touch it.”
After all, some of the production’s actors have been at it for nearly a decade. Many know all of the roles by heart, even without playing them onstage—though that’s not to say they don’t have their sights set on at least one.
For Lily Spellman, it has always been The Devil.
“When I was 7, I would look at the girl in the red dress and be, like, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s my goal,’” Lily, now 15, said during rehearsal on Sunday at the Southampton Town Recreation Center. “This is my eighth ‘Follies,’ and I swear my dad knows every single word to the entire show. It’s insane. If Frankenstein couldn’t be there one night, my dad could do it. And he owns a marina. It’s not like he’s an actor.”
Other than the occasional exception or guest appearance, the actors have always ranged from ages 8 to 18. On Saturday night, that will all change, when at least 25 alumni will return to the stage with the current cast—resulting in “at least three Wolfmans, two Frankensteins, God only knows how many Little Red Riding Hoods,” Ms. Leonard laughed. “As long as they know where to stand, they’ll be able to do it. That’s what I’m counting on, anyway. It’ll be an interesting night.”
No matter how many actors are on stage, Ava Bianchi has no intention of fading into the background. This year, the 13-year-old is starring as Wednesday, the hysterical goblin witch, for her fifth “Follies.”
“She’s a handful,” Ava laughed. “She’s just like me. I like being the center of attention, I like making people smile. And I give Wednesday more sass.”
She struck a pose, jutting out her tiny hip with one hand on her waist and the other behind her head. “Yeah. Sassier.”
Much like Lily, the teenager has always had her eye on playing The Devil—until she has watched Audrey perform as Dracula this year. “There’s always someone to look up to. That would be ,” Ava said. “She’s so funny. I really like to get into my characters, just like her. Dracula was never that funny before. She just made the part good.”
Even in the rehearsal room, Audrey is magnetic. She sends the younger actors into ripples of laughter as they watch from the wings, forcing her peers on stage to hold it together during their scenes. Writhing across the floor, screaming in pain as a goblin sang, “Let the Sunshine In,” even Ms. Leonard buckled over with laughter, leaning down to help Audrey to her feet.
“I love you,” she said, pulling the girl into a hug, as the actors applauded.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do without her,” said 16-year-old Denis Hartnett, who portrays Frankenstein’s monster. “I’ve always done it with her. It’s going to be weird.”
Audrey has acted nearly every “Follies” role. She has changed costumes more times than she can count. She has hundreds of memories with nine different casts. And when she graduates from Pierson High School in June, she will have a hard time saying goodbye.
“I’m sad, because this has been … I haven’t had a constant thing growing up, except for Stages. Having this be my 30th production and the 20th ‘Frankenstein Follies,’ being the 100th show of Stages, it all came together in my last year,” she said. “It’s really emotional. I’m looking forward to leaving …” She hesitated, her voice cracking as Lily put her hand on her friend’s shoulder. “But I’m also not looking forward to not seeing these guys. We’re a family here. Lily is like my sister.”
This weekend, the cast will folly one last time with Audrey —whose Stages history will come full circle when her childhood hero, Craig Scheneck, now 32, walks on stage as Frankenstein’s monster.
And, on stage, they’ll have themselves a Monster Mash. Literally.
Stages, A Children’s Theater Workshop will present “Frankenstein Follies” on Friday, October 24, at 7:30 p.m. at Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor. A 20th anniversary alumni performance and benefit reception will be held on Saturday, October 25, at 7:30 p.m., followed by an additional performance on Sunday, October 26, at 2 p.m. Tickets start at $25. For more information, call (631) 725-9500, or visit baystreet.org.