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