“Impressive. It’s just great.”
-Derek M. Koch, Monster Kid Radio
My first exposure to Boris Karloff came on a Friday night in the mid-seventies. Our local ABC affiliate was playing Frankenstein (1931). I was instantly hooked and became a monster movie kid for life. While I certainly love Bela Lugosi, my favorite by far has always been Boris Karloff. Over the last 14 months, I‘ve revisited most of his films. However, the icing on the cinematic cake came this past weekend when I had the rare opportunity to sit down and enter the world of KARLOFF, a one person play by Randy Bowser. Now, on the anniversary of the birth of William Henry Pratt, I want to share this experience with you.
I first became aware of this stage performance in 2014 courtesy of my friend Derek M. Koch and his Monster Kid Radio podcast. I became excited over the news that a gentleman by the name of Randy Bowser was doing a play on the life of Boris Karloff. Then, my excitement quickly became envy over the people who could see the show, when I discovered the play was for four nights only in Salem. Oregon – a location far from my location in Kansas City. For the last year, I have eagerly followed Randy and his quest to bring this play to life in other cities with other actors performing the role.
Then, through a random posting on Facebook, I was given the chance I had longed for over the last year. Randy had decided to make a very limited number of DVDs available in an effort to continue funding his dream. I quickly acquired a copy and to say that this is now one of the most cherished pieces in my personal home video library is a vast understatement.
Now, first and foremost, please understand that I cannot review KARLOFF. It is a stage performance and the only way to properly do so would have been to attend in person. However, this professional DVD presentation allowed me to take a glimpse into what the experience would have been like. From the opening menu of the DVD, I knew I was in for something special. Randy’s love and dedication to this project is evident in every second of his performance. From the twinkle in his eye to the changing tones of his voice to the subtle physical decline as Karloff gets older, Randy gives an amazing and most believable performance.
The sparse stage presentation worked incredibly well. The colorful lighting reminded me of a Mario Bava film. However, I could also see how a grander production would not take away from the essence of the play. Randy has written an amazing tale on the life of Boris Karloff. He doesn’t cover every single film, nor should he, but he offers highlights from his journey in Hollywood, Broadway and beyond. There are props to help enhance the various segments, such as a mad scientist wig or the furry Monster jacket. But most importantly, what Randy does not give us is a Karloff impersonation. That was a vital key to making this performance a dramatic effort rather than simply a cartoonish homage. Yes, there are subtle moments where you can hear the Karloff lisp but it’s always done lovingly and never in jest.
Randy Bowser did extensive research for this project and received some invaluable input from Stephen Jacobs, author of the definitive Karloff biography, Boris Karloff: More Than a Monster. He also used Dear Boris by Cynthia Lindsey for some source material. Most importantly, he received an official endorsement from Sara Karloff, the daughter of Boris. Sara was present for both nights of the opening weekend performances. A wonderful Q&A was included on the DVD along with some fun pre-show moments. Sara stated that Randy nailed it and I wholeheartedly agree.
Now, the journey must continue as KARLOFF moves to the next stage. Randy was the writer and director but he never envisioned himself in the lead role. You’d never know it from how he so smoothly presented everything on stage, from the first crackle of thunder to the encore performance of Monster Mash. But Randy envisions actors from around the globe assuming the role of Karloff in their own performances. The first of these has finally been announced with actor Charles Prokopp playing Boris at The Temple of Music and Art in Tucson, Arizona in October 2016. If you have the opportunity, I strongly encourage you attend to support Randy’s dream.
I want to thank Randy for this tremendous opportunity and I will continue to follow the play’s progress with hopes of seeing it one day live in Kansas City. Until then, please visit the main website for KARLOFF and offer your own support. Then, if you’re hungry for more, check out episodes 119 and 120 of the Monster Kid Radio podcast where Derek interviews Randy, as well as his great interview with Sara Karloff.
KARLOFF is an amazing piece of work and I cannot highly recommend it enough. It’s a loving tribute made for the monster kid in all of us.
Photos by Steve Anchell