Corrections or additions?

This review by Simon Saltzman was prepared for the May 24, 2006 issue

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

Broadway Review: `Lestat’

Every time we think we have finally seen the last vampire fly from the

rafters and tread the boards, along comes another one to take its

place. Well isn’t that to be expected of the undead. The source for

this latest and admirably earnest musical resurrection is Anne Rice’s

popular Vampire Chronicles, itself a veritable feast of bloodlust and

sexual perversity. For starters, let’s say that "Lestat" is far and

away the best of the vampire musicals that includes such failed

efforts as "Dance of the Vampires" and "Dracula, the Musical."

Credit should go to Elton John for his ambitious, if not particularly

memorable, musical score, the appropriately agitated and impassioned

lyrics by Bernie Taupin and the simplified book that Linda Woolverton

culled from Rice’s convolutions. Theirs, however, is an earth-bound,

seriously conflicted vampire who doesn’t fly from the rafters or hail

from Transylvania. So much the better. He is an 18th century French

nobleman with a flair for life upon the wicked stage and a fondness

for young men. Despite the overriding homoerotic aspects of this

version, there are only subtle inferences and indications of sex and

seduction.

Those faithful followers, devotees, and adorers of the vampiric

legends will be pleased to learn that the collaborators have chosen to

avoid the use of camp or parody, except in the funny and eerie episode

dealing with the Parisian Theater of the Vampires. Otherwise their

vision of Lestat prompts us to empathize with his attempt to pursue

his destiny. The story progresses through the decades and over

continents but it is easy to follow. In their effort to keep the faith

and not resort to a send-up of this formidable anti-hero, the musical,

however, often seems to be straddling uneasily between these options.

Those most familiar with the story line, as derived from the two most

popular of the Rice series, "Inteview with the Vampire" and "The

Vampire Lestat," will find on the stage of Palace Theater a musical

that takes a great risk at being dramatically baroque and mostly free

of technical gadgetry. The special effects are there yet modest by

today’s production standards with the atmospherics largely extolling

the artistry of lighting designer Kenneth Posner. My companion for the

evening was not only a fan but a blood (no pun intended) relative who

has performed as Count Dracula in a haunted castle for many years

during the Halloween season. He was my source of authenticity. Who

could ask for anything more?

The plot, in which characters tend to live by a song and then die with

a scream, is tantalizing enough and kept on course by director Robert

Jess Roth, with an able assist from Matt West’s musical staging.

West’s most conspicuous contribution is "To Kill Your Kind," as

bizarrely danced by a troupe of vampire thespians. The insatiable

nocturnal adventuring of Lestat (Hugh Panaro), with his victims all

responding to his attack in the same manner, does tend toward

redundancy and beg the question: where do we go from here? New

Orleans, that’s where. For that we depend upon Dave McKean’s "visual

concept design" and Derek McLane’s darkly Gothicized settings

consisting of moving columns, slides, and projections.

Press reports from out-of-town about songs, characters, scenes, and

performers being dropped and/or replaced indicated that there was

plenty of work to do on this particular incarnation. What remains to

be somewhat too vaguely considered is Lestat’s sexual appetite. Unlike

the hypnotic cloaked seducer who visited many a virginal maiden’s

boudoir, this Lestat is not so inclined. Perhaps it is we who hunger

for a little nudity and a bit of gratuitous hanky panky.

Lestat is played with appropriately posturing aplomb by the tall,

comely baritone Hugh Panaro. Shaking his long blond mane, he makes a

dashing figure in costumer Susan Hilferty’s period attire. Panaro, who

made his Broadway debut as Marius in "Les Miserables" and is a veteran

of "The Phantom of the Opera," has a lot to sing about, which allows

him to give his all to the score’s best song, the soaring plea "Sail

Me Away."

For those in need of a detailed plot summary: The story chronicles

Lestat’s wanderings and search for the godfather of the vampires in

the hope of finding closure and redemption. The exposition, in which

the young Lestat has a surreal battle with a pack of wolves, is

impressively staged. And his subsequent decision to leave the home of

his tyrannical, abusive father and his ailing mother, Gabrielle

(Carolee Carmello), whom he adores, serves nicely to set the stage for

his wanderings. Lestat’s subsequent encounter with an aging vampire

from whom he inherits the curse of eternal life is climaxed with the

vampire’s self immolation in a blaze of fire and is very effective.

Carmello, who has one of the best voices in the business, makes an

impressive transformation as Lestat’s here-today-gone-tomorrow

consort.

Lestat’s theatrical career takes off in Paris where he gives his dying

mother new life, if you can call it that. Lestat also rekindles his

affection for his childhood friend, Nicholas (Roderick Hill), who

plays the violin at the theater. We know where things are going when

he accepts the naive but infatuated Nicholas’s hospitality and shares

his single bed. Things liven up in New Orleans ("Welcome to the New

World"), where Lestat sets up housekeeping with Louis (Jim Stanek), a

morose widower, and Claudia (Allison Fischer), a 10-year-old waif

consigned to live in perpetual childhood. Fischer’s fiendish

performance raises the stakes (no pun intended) with her tantrums and

her powerhouse singing in "I’ll Never Have That Chance" and "I Want

More." Drew Sarich inspires chills as Lestat’s nemesis, Armand, as

does Michael Genet, as the illusive vampire Marius.

That Lestat fails to engage us with his romantic side may be

regrettable. But the seriously-intended musical in which he resides is

far from regrettable and should attract and please those who want to

quench (as the song says) "The Thirst." HH

– Simon Saltzman

"Lestat," Palace Theater, 1564 Broadway. $65 to $100. 212-307-4100.


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