The story of Frankenstein is all about obsession. So it’s no surprise that Andrew and Melissa Baughman were as captivated with composer Richard Campbell’s prog-metal rock opera of the classic Mary Shelley tale as Victor Frankenstein was with his creature.
“Anybody that listens to that soundtrack becomes obsessed with it. It is very strange,” says Melissa Baughman, one half of the husband-and-wife duo behind the rock-musical-focused Landless Theatre Company.
That obsession is what made Frankenstein the perfect subject for a prog-metal composer. The genre requires a particular meticulousness and dedication of its musicians that parallel the mad scientist’s.
“Prog metal is intense, very calculated music,” says Baughman, who considers herself a lifelong metalhead. “It seems like a weird combination, but actually I think it’s a perfect marriage.”
The company’s “Frankenstein” is a world premiere originating from Campbell’s concept album of the same name, on which he played every instrument. Andrew Baughman, who is Landless’ producing artistic director and is playing the title role, discovered the album in a Spotify search for rock operas. He worked with Campbell, who lives in London, entirely over e-mail.
Turning the album into a staged opera was more demanding than they expected. “[Campbell] didn’t really have a score at first,” Andrew says.
Adds Melissa, who is directing the show: “In musical theater, the libretto will tell you what’s going on, but here, there’s a long guitar solo, and you have to be creative and figure [out] what’s happening. There was a lot of me sitting with headphones on and trying to meditate and imagine.”
Casting was easier. The Baughmans turned to the local metal community to find actors and musicians who would be willing to try something new.
“We specified that it was a rock opera, not a musical — the word ‘musical,’ it deters people,” Melissa says.
But the stagecraft of metal made it an easy crossover for Baltimore performers Robert Bradley of the band Aries and Irene Jericho of Cassandra Syndrome.
“It’s really dramatic; there’s no casual gestures. Everything is very intense and specific,” Melissa says. “I didn’t have to direct them very much with that stuff. It was natural.”
But for Andrew, a veteran actor but a relative newbie to prog-metal opera, playing Frankenstein has been a challenge.
“Of the rock shows we’ve done, this is the most difficult music,” he says. “Prog rock is really technical. The more you listen to it, you start to appreciate all the different layers of music.”
That intricacy, mixed with Melissa’s additions of shadow puppetry and “rocked-out Victorian” costumes, will be the bolt of lightning that breathes life into this premiere. Spoken like a true metalhead, Melissa has a prediction for the audience: “It’s gonna melt their faces clean off.”
Saturday through June 30 at GALA Hispanic Theatre, 3333 14th St. NW. www.landlesstheatrecompany.org. $16-$24.