Usually once a play or musical has been worked and reworked in
"development" in regional theaters, out-of-town tryouts, or previews
in New York City, the end result is just that. That’s it. At least for
playwrights and composers who are still living. (Once you’re dead, the
revisions may really begin in earnest. Think Shakespeare set on a
Caribbean Island or on a ranch in old Texas.)
However for prolific pop music and Broadway composer Frank Wildhorn,
who never seems to stop working, once on Broadway may not be enough.
In November of 1997, his musical version of "The Scarlet Pimpernel"
opened to less than enthusiastic reviews. He must have begun making
changes right away, because a revised "Pimpernel" replaced the first
version about a month later and ran for over a year, 772 performances
So it comes as no surprise that Wildhorn has reworked "Dracula, the
Musical," which opened on Broadway in August, 2004, and played through
January, 2005. The new, re-crafted version makes its U.S. debut in an
amateur production at Mercer County Community College’s Kelsey
Theater, opening Friday, October 20, and running through Tuesday,
October 31. The perfect Halloween drama.
The original "Dracula, the Musical" began its journey to Broadway in
San Diego, opening at La Jolla Playhouse in fall, 2001, under the
direction of artistic director Des McAuff (who brought "Jersey Boys"
to Broadway this year.) Even with a stellar cast, the critics hated
it, even beginning to pan the show before it opened in New York. There
was a heated exchange about "jumping the gun" with negative remarks in
print, not considered fair play. However, the production was kept
alive for four plus months thanks to Wildhorn’s devoted fan base.
Wildhorn, who grew up on Long Island and considers himself a "New York
guy," is a self-taught musician whose first Broadway credit was for
additional songs for the Julie Andrews star vehicle, "Victor
Victoria." The following season, Wildhorn made a really big splash
with "Jekyll and Hyde," which developed a huge fan base, who became
known as "Jekkies," as they saw the musical many times and traveled
far and wide to catch later productions. They were called "the world’s
most devoted fan group" and were even offered special hotel rates when
the show had a return engagement years later in Houston, where it had
originated at the Alley Theater.
Nick Cheng, Wildhorn’s long-time assistant and a Hamilton resident,
counts himself as one of Wildhorn’s fans, though he doesn’t claim the
moniker "Jekkie." His great admiration of Wildhorn began with Linda
Eder, who has released a number of successful albums, starred in
Wildhorn’s "Jeckyll and Hyde" on Broadway, and was once married to
Wildhorn. Cheng says, "I was a huge fan of hers, went to her concerts,
and bought all her solos CDs." Much of the music that Eder sang was
written by Wildhorn so Cheng became his fan as well.
While he was a college student at New York University (a short-lived
experience, he says), Cheng wrangled the phone number for Wildhorn’s
assistant and kept calling until he got an interview and finally a job
as an intern at Wildhorn’s company. Flash forward: Cheng now basically
runs the company. "I do everything from keeping his calendar to
putting together his musical projects," he says via E-mail. A phone
interview was impossible due to Cheng’s busy schedule working for
Wildhorn, preparing the new production of "Dracula," and playing a few
musical gigs in between.
Three years ago, Cheng and college chums Frank Ferrara and Vicky
Czarnik began their own company. They had been involved with community
theater and wanted to "do shows the way we wanted to do them." Their
company’s mission is to mount quality productions of "lesser known
works." This renewed and revised "Dracula" is their third production.
With Cheng’s association with composer Wildhorn, he was able to get
the personal involvement of the "father" of "Dracula, The Musical,"
which this time around will be directed by Ferrara.
As a special event, composer Wildhorn will give a master class for
theater career hopefuls immediately following the performance on
Sunday, October 22. He will answer questions and also work directly
with a limited number of singers. Space is limited. Those interested
should register by E-mail at email@example.com.
The Kelsey production will feature non-union actors. The great
advantage that Cheng and Ferrara find working with these actors is
that they are acting for "the sheer joy of performing and are always
very enthusiastic and willing to work hard," says Cheng. "They don’t
get paid so the gratification comes from performing the show as best
The story remains basically the same as in the Dracula that we know
and love. As U.S. 1 theater critic Simon Saltzman wrote in 2004,
"There’s always room for one more peek into the coffin." If there is
anyone who doesn’t know the story of Bram Stoker’s novel, published in
1897, the story tells of Count Dracula, a Romanian noble (as the
Wildhorn website says), "a notoriously severe insomniac, who leaves
his crumbling castle for new accommodations – and a fresh menu – in
London." Yes, he’s the most famous vampire of them all. Will he or
won’t he sup with young Mina and luscious Lucy?
After the original musical’s demise on Broadway, a revamped and German
language version opened to much success in Switzerland. The New Jersey
version, Cheng says, is more orchestral than the original
"synthesizer-heavy" Broadway score. He describes the new production as
"a little more rock, a little more contemporary, but still with the
sensibilities that Frank Wildhorn’s music is known for." Cheng, who
made the orchestrations for this new version, notes that the Swiss
version was scored for an orchestra of 40 musicians. "In Europe
musicians aren’t as expensive to hire," he says. In line with American
economics, Cheng has created a score for nine musicians. "There are a
few new songs, not heard in the Broadway production, so that’s
exciting for us."
Director Ferrara, also via E-mail, says that the changes include
combining "the stake" to what was originally a solo for Dracula,
"Loving You Keeps Me Alive," with another song, "A Perfect Life," to
be sung by Mina and her husband. But all is not lost for the Count; a
number has been added to the show, termed an eleven-o’clock number –
the big attention getter just before any musical moves into its finale
– entitled "At Last," a duet for Mina and Dracula. And they haven’t
omitted the aptly titled, "Life After Life."
With a smaller cast and a more chamber-music approach, don’t expect
the Broadway special effects of flying bats and people. "The Swiss
production was more intimate, like a chamber musical, and that’s what
we’re going with," says Ferrara. He assures me that the story still
follows the doings of the original story characters but without the
large ensemble used on Broadway. Ferrara says "it was a show about a
small group of people in which a huge group of people – maids,
porters, wedding guests, and the like – randomly charged onstage at
various intervals." The story now focuses on the main people and
vampires in the story. "Individual scenes have been rewritten to
deepen the characters," says Ferrara.
In an interview that Wildhorn had with writer Pati Buehler on
Broadway.com around the time of the debut of "Jekyll & Hyde" he
revealed a clue about why he is committed to "Dracula, the Musical":
"I love the gothic literature. It always has such great stories with
characters bigger than life and the stakes are always high." And
sometimes those stakes can do you in if you’re one of the undead.
"Dracula the Musical" is for the unafraid.
Dracula! The Musical, Friday, October 20, through Tuesday, October 31,
Kelsey Theater, Mercer County Community College, 1200 Old Trenton
Road. Cheng/Ferrara Productions presents the world premiere of Frank
Wildhorn’s newly-revised musical. $16. Master class with Wildhorn for
students interested in pursuing a career in musical theater follows
the October 22 2 p.m. performance. $35 includes a ticket to the
performance. Register. Those interested in performing for Wildhorn at
the master class must submit a headshot and resume to
firstname.lastname@example.org. Performers will be selected at
Dracula, the Ballet, Saturday, October 28, 7 p.m., Roxey Ballet, Villa
Victoria Theater, 376 West Upper Ferry Road, Ewing. 609-397-7616 or