Corrections or additions?

This review by Simon Saltzman was prepared for the October 27,

2004 issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Broadway Review: Dracula

There is nothing in the world of the living, or for that matter the

world of the undead, that is going to make intelligent people think

that the countless adaptations and derivations of "Dracula" are

anything but pure hokum. That so many spine-tingling stage and screen

versions have, however, been derived from the source, Bram Stoker’s

influential and eternally chilling Victorian era novel (1897),

certainly attests to our continuing fascination with the greatest

vampire of all, his powers of seduction and evil.

Putting aside all the Freudian, religious, political, and social

overtones that the various versions and interpretations have either

chosen to ignore or examine over the past 100 years, it has always

seemed as if there was room for one more peak into the coffin, be it

for allegorical or musical inspection. But, with the musical

"Dracula," it does look as if we may have hit the end of the stake.

If Frank Wildhorn’s musical consideration of "Dracula" is far from

being a total disaster, it also has little about it to warrant more

than an infrequent gasp and chuckle. Except for the moments prescribed

for the obligatory eerie doings and the instances where the cast can

display their vocal prowess, "Dracula" flaps lamely about the stage

with only a little more enthusiasm than a moth in heat.

While Wildhorn’s score is too labored, grating, and monotonous, Don

Black’s lyrics more laughable than laudable, and Des McAnuff’s

direction surprisingly more anemic (I wonder why?) than the vigorous

staging with which he empowered both "How to Succeed" and "The Who’s

Tommy" on Broadway, the overall look of the show, particularly that

provided by Heidi Ettinger’s kaleidoscopic settings (spookily lit by

Howell Binkley) is otherwise handsome and hypnotic. And where would a

production of "Dracula" be without such expected special effects as a

bevy of high-flying, gyrating, negligee-clad, salivating female

vampires, an engaging trap door, a blood-spurting coffin, and a creepy

Transylvanian castle.

McAnuff’s decision to keep "Dracula" flowing by putting the lecherous

Count Dracula (played with ersatz, if stultifying, panache by Tom

Hewitt) on a treadmill is amusing to a point and certainly a fluid way

to get him from one victim to the next and from one lumbering scene to

the next. If I am predisposed to a fascination with the entire genre,

I have to concede that the collaborators seem to have tried to take a

different route than that taken by the markedly lavish but more

ludicrous display of shrieking blood-suckers exhibited last season in

"Dance of the Vampires."

Unfortunately the book, co-written by Black and Christopher Hampton,

doesn’t have either the heft to support the challenging good vs. evil

theme of the Stoker novel, or the wit, or an expansive enough vision

to veer intriguingly away from it. And much of the dialogue, in

particular that spoken by Lucy’s Texas boyfriend, ("I haven’t been on

such tenterhooks since the night we were waiting for a tethered tiger

in Sumatra"), shatters the fragile mood more than once.

It is good that most people, certainly the audience that would venture

to the Belasco Theater, are familiar with the basic story, as the

musical makes all plot progression and character motivation unclear.

If liberties are taken with the novel’s original denouement, it

doesn’t matter in the long run, as nothing that happens makes much

sense. But one is eager in the opening moments to savor lawyer

Jonathan Harker’s (Darren Ritchie) unsettling overnight visit with his

noticeably peculiar client in his castle in Romania. Although the

Count is dressed and wigged to look like the ancient Gary Oldman in

Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 film version, he gives himself an instant

makeover as soon as he sets his bloodshot eyes on a photo of Harker’s

gorgeous fiance, Mina (Melissa Errico).

Once in Blighty, Dracula warms up his bedside manner with the luscious

Lucy (Kelli O’Hara) to the dismay of her lame duck suitors, Britishers

Arthur Holmwood (Chris Hoch), Jack Seward (Shonn Wiley), and Quincy

Morris (Bart Shatto) – that Yankee of dubious wit.

All appears lost until Dracula’s nemesis, Van Helsing (played with

serious intent by Stephen McKinley Henderson), arrives with a plan,

you know the one about the stake in the heart, a garland of garlic,

and as many crosses as you can shake a fang at, etc. In the meantime,

the hungry Count seems to be getting under Mina’s skin, as she begins

to sing her arias louder and with an increasingly impassioned sense of

desperation – or is that supposed to be lust? Errico’s beauty and

lovely voice are a plus, but she looks as lost in the mist as does

everyone else.

One can see what Dracula sees in Mina, but what in the world does she

see in this old neck nipper other than he is able to stay aloft and

swing upside down and horizontal, thanks to aerial staging by Rob

Besserer and Flying by Foy? Don Stephenson, who plays the mad spider

and fly-eating Renfield, can be commended for not suffering from or

singing about acute indigestion.

The biggest disappointment overall is Wildhorn’s score, which

astonishingly seems to have neither a discernable musical motif nor a

compelling melodic thread. The cheesy and deafening

synthesizer-propelled sounds (with dreadful orchestrations by Doug

Besterman) emanating from the pit are from hunger. This is unfortunate

since Wildhorn’s scores for "The Civil War," "Jekyll and Hyde," and

"The Scarlet Pimpernel" had their share of stirring moments. You could

do worse than come out of the theater singing the praises of Catherine

Zuber’s stunning costumes. Is there a wolf man musical waiting in the

wings?

Dracula, Belasco Theater, 111 West 44th Street. For tickets call

212-239-6200.


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