Prime Stage Theatre will present Karloff: The Man and The Monster, a show written by Randy Bowser and directed by Art DeConciliis, and starring David Nackman as the titular subject. The production is described in a press release as exploring Karloff’s “illustrious 60-year career in the entertainment industry and his enduring legacy.”
The show — staging at New Hazlett from Nov. 5-14 — will serve as a celebration of Prime Stage’s 25th season, its return to live, in-person performances, and the 90th anniversary of the iconic Frankenstein movie starring Karloff, which opened on Nov. 21, 1931.
“This is a must-see performance for all Karloff fans, horror fans, and younger audiences to discover this incredible person and his wit,” says Wayne Brinda, producing artistic director for Prime Stage.
Brinda points out that Karloff became familiar to generations, not only through his many, often horrific film roles, but for his voice work in the 1966 animated holiday television special How the Grinch Stole Christmas. In a funny twist, the latter, which was adapted from a Dr. Seuss book, ended up winning the horror actor a Grammy Award in the Best Recording for Children category.
Karloff: The Man and The Monster originally premiered in 2014 at the Level B Theater Pub in Salem, Ore., and starred Bowser in the lead role. The play sees Karloff interacting with other invisible characters as he “re-lives moments in his life which spontaneously occur to him,” according to the New Play Exchange website. It’s further described as being told in a “kaleidoscope of fast-paced, time-hopping, and often very funny vignettes which celebrate art, life, and the indomitable human spirit.”
The play has also been touted as being endorsed by Sara Jane Karloff, the only child of Boris Karloff.
Born William Henry Pratt in England, Karloff immigrated to Canada around 1909, where he began taking acting jobs. He then went on to Hollywood, where he landed roles in numerous silent films before finding fame in Frankenstein under director and fellow Brit James Whale. From there, he was mostly cast in horror, sci-fi, and noir films right up until his death in 1969.
While his ability to add emotional depth to heavy makeup effects made him a household name, it also contributed to racist practices that were common in early Hollywood. Karloff, like many white actors at the time, often used yellowface to play a variety of Asian characters, including the Chinese villain Fu Manchu, giving him a more complicated legacy.
Nackman, whose credits include performances with companies in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and New York, says playing Karloff is “a high point” of his career as an actor.
“Playing Karloff is an exhilarating challenge,” says Nackman.
He says the work of bringing Karloff to life has been “filled with surprise and delight,” adding that Bowser’s script “reveals much more" about Karloff “than most of us ever knew.”
“And I can’t say enough about the Prime Stage production team, led by the amazing, consummate ‘actors' director,’ Art DeConciliis,” says Nackman. “Their work to put on an amazing show has been breathtaking. It’s going to be a thriller.”
Prime Stage presents Karloff: The Man and The Monster. Fri., Nov. 5-Sun., Nov. 14. New Hazlett Theater. 6 Allegheny Square East, North Side. $15-30. newhazletttheater.org