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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
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
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
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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