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

in all.

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

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

they can."

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 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 Performers will be selected at

random. 609-584-9444.

Dracula, the Ballet, Saturday, October 28, 7 p.m., Roxey Ballet, Villa

Victoria Theater, 376 West Upper Ferry Road, Ewing. 609-397-7616 or

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