At rehearsal for “Frankenstein Follies” on a Friday afternoon, Ava Bianchi accidentally put her hands down instead of forward — just for a split second — and the entire cast followed suit.
That was the wrong move, the 17-year-old, who will play the devil in the show, said later. “We have to be on the ball — you really can’t mess up,” she added, laughing, referring to the older kids in the show.
The 24th production of “Frankenstein Follies” — put on by Stages, A Children’s Theater Workshop — will open on Friday, October 26, at Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor, with shows also on Saturday, October 27, and Sunday, October 28.
The musical revue about Frankenstein’s search for his bride is full of witches, monsters, goblins and ghouls who sing and dance to fun show tunes and rock and roll. According to Helene Leonard, who founded Stages in 1994, the show is for everyone.
That is, it has remained popular throughout the years for both audiences and the cast alike. This is Ava’s ninth time participating in “Frankenstein Follies,” for example. But now that she’s older, her role in costume and in the success of the show is much different.
“You get a lot of your tendencies when you’re younger and it’s just really important now that we’re older to try to be a role model, to do well, to help kids understand, because we’ve done the show so many times,” she said. “You look forward to being in that position.”
“Their Halloween makes their whole October,” Lola Lama, 16, chimed in. “It’s just so rewarding to have them look up to us. It’s kind of like, ‘Us, really?”
The show is a special one for Leonard too. Her father, who had his own theater company in Ohio, wrote the script for “Frankenstein Follies” in the 1970s. He died a short time after that in 1980 when he was just 52. Leonard said that’s what prompted her to start Stages on the East End, after teaching drama at the Hampton Day School for a few years, as well as leading an after-school theater program that became popular there.
“Through the years, it’s just evolved to what it is now,” Leonard said of “Frankenstein Follies.” “It goes with the trends but it’s also kept the same body of songs, and it’s gotten to a point where the kids won’t even let me change it.”
“It’s sort of like our Nutcracker — only a lot more fun, I think,” she added.
While the substance of the show has stayed the same, Leonard explained that she doesn’t hesitate to add in scenes when children have specific talents. The skeleton in the show, for example, didn’t tap dance in her father’s original script.
“It evolved as the talent evolved and then whatever worked — which was 99 percent of it — stayed,” Leonard said. “My father taught me: you don’t play down to kids, you raise the bar.”
Indeed, the show gives the younger kids in Stages the opportunity to take on more prominent roles. It’s often the younger ones too who star in several different roles throughout many numbers, meaning they need to be quick on their feet to get in their costumes and to their places on time.
“Frankenstein Follies is a good opportunity for smaller kids because they can be in more parts, just because some of the older kids can’t do it,” said Emma Suhr, 11, who will play Water Faucet Goblin — a character she enjoys playing because it’s different from the other goblins in the show — among other roles.
“We like to shine too,” said Shayla Lopez, also 11, who will play Ketchup Tomato and Gloria Goblin, a dog-teasing goblin. “I just like that I got the opportunity to get them because I usually don’t get a lot of speaking parts.”
Aside from producing a fun, extremely fast-paced show that has 30 numbers in total, it’s evident that Stages itself is a program that does more than just teach kids theater.
At rehearsal on Friday afternoon, Leonard was in her element, carefully watching to make sure even the smallest of details was accounted for. She’d chime in with body placement or part advice to make sure the cast knew what was happening and was comfortable with it — and would even sing along to the different songs.
“Of course, it teaches you singing, dancing and other theatrical skills, but on the other side of it, it gives you confidence, it gives you discipline, it gives you the sense of working in something that’s bigger than yourself,” Leonard said of Stages. “It would help in a job interview, in a way you give a speech, in a way you feel about yourself and present yourself.”
After nine years in Stages and nine times starring in “Frankenstein Follies,” Ava will graduate from Hampton Bays High School this spring. Though she said she isn’t sure what the future holds, there’s no sign that she will leave the show or her Stages family behind.
“There’s absolutely no way that I will ever forget any of the words in ‘Frankenstein Follies,’” she said. “It’s definitely something that I’ll show my kids.”
“Frankenstein Follies” will kick off Friday, October 26, at 7:30 p.m. with additional performances on Saturday, October 27 at 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, October 28 at 2 p.m.
Tickets are $15 and available for purchase on Baystreet.org or by calling the box office at 631-725-9500.