by Elizabeth Ann Foster

“A first sign of the beginning of understanding is the wish to die.”—Franz Kafka (1883–1924)

This is a concert reading of Matt Chiorini’s book turned musical at Feinstein’s 54 Below. The production cleverly blends several of the Czech writer Kafka’s works together in a rollercoaster ride presentation. Loosely based on both Kafka’s novella Metamorphosis and Letters to his Father. A very dark family story is woven that is every bit tragic as hilarious. A combination that keeps you listening intently to the lyrics and story line to catch all the nuanced levity.

This production uses puppets, instruments and lighting techniques to sing and tell the tale. It starts with the birth of Gregor (Jack Rento) by his mother, Mrs. Samsa (Meghan Lees). The actual birthing is done by producing a puppet. We follow Gregor through his short life. Many similarities and inferences are made to Kafka’s own life throughout the musical.

Kafka died of tuberculosis at the age of 42 and most of his work was not published. He asked his friend Max Brod to destroy his work upon his death. He did not listen and instead he published most of his work posthumously. This fact is central to the book and music Chiorini creates. The protagonist Gregor (Jack Rento) cannot be understood. No one listens to him. He tries to speak but his words are never heard by his family. He is invisible. This was true before Gregor’s metamorphosis and after. Gregor was ignored by the family and one-night changes into a bug. After this he speaks but it is unintelligible to anyone. What is the difference they never understood him before?

Franz our narrator (Jack Rento) has difficulty articulating his thoughts and prefers to sing instead to tell the story. Rento is the highlight of the musical delivering witty lines with facial expressions and a strong delivery. As he turns slowly into a bug he says, “If someone is playing a prank this is a very good one.” Referencing Helen Reddy’s 1971 hit Gregor declares “I am insect hear me roar.” The rest of the family cannot hear a word from their transformed member.

Gregor’s sister Greta (Morgan Smith) has some of the best lines as she portrays a someone of less than average intelligence. As she mispronounces a Spanish word says, “I’m taking Spanish so I can visit Spanish someday.”

Building on the theme that no one is listening to Gregor, he starts to write to his father. His father sadly never reads the letters. As Gregor understood his insignificance to his family he stops eating to eventually wither away and die. His father (Matt Chiorini) says, “Well thanks be to God.”

As Kafka’s Metamorphosis continues to evolve go see it when available.  Knowledge of Kafka’s body of work is not necessary. The universal theme of being invisible and helpless can be felt by the audience and is impactful. 

The original cast CD was available for purchase. Songs featured are A Boy Named K, Samsa Monings and Dearest Father.

Kafka’s Metamorphosis: The Musical! – book, music and lyrics by Matt Chiorini.

With – Jack Rento (Gregor), Meghan Lees (mother) Matt Chiorini (father, guitar), Morgan Smith (Greta)

Vocal arrangements/orchestrations, violin and additional music and lyrics by Travis Newton; keyboards by Greg Giovanini.

One performance only Friday, March 6th at 9:30 pm at Feinstein’s / 54 Below, 254 West 54th Street, Cellar. Doors open at 9:00 pm. Tickets $49 – $79 with a $25 per person table minimum. Tickets & Info: (646) 476-3551. Runtime 60 minutes with no intermission.