Canadian Dracula Musical Gets U.S. Premiere at MA North Shore Oct. 1-20, 2002

News   Canadian Dracula Musical Gets U.S. Premiere at MA North Shore Oct. 1-20, 2002 There will be two Dracula musicals flying high in North America in fall 2002, when Richard Ouzounian and Marek Norman's Canadian-originated musical based on the 1897 Bram Stoker novel has its U.S. premiere Oct. 1-20 at North Shore Music Theatre in Massachusetts — around the same time the Frank Wildhorn's Broadway musical is planned.

There will be two Dracula musicals flying high in North America in fall 2002, when Richard Ouzounian and Marek Norman's Canadian-originated musical based on the 1897 Bram Stoker novel has its U.S. premiere Oct. 1-20 at North Shore Music Theatre in Massachusetts — around the same time the Frank Wildhorn's Broadway musical is planned.

The Ouzounian-Norman collaboration is copyrighted as Dracula, a chamber musical and will boast an intimate cast of seven at NSMT, the respected in-the-round nonprofit theatre in Beverly, MA. The musical was workshopped in 1994 and had its world premiere at the Stratford Festival in 1999, with Juan Chioran in the title role. The Wildhorn collaboration, directed by Des McAnuff at the La Jolla Playhouse in November, and written with co-librettist-lyricists Christopher Hampton and Don Black, is a musical spectacle complete with flying and terrifying special effects.

Because the romantic horror yarn is old enough to not be bound by copyright laws (it's in "the public domain," words that are music to songwriters' ears), anyone is free to adapt the story for the stage or screen. A search of the words "Dracula" and "musical" on the internet proves that the idea of a musical retelling of the bloodthirsty count's story is popular.

Lyricist-librettist Ouzounian, who directed at Stratford but will not in Massachusetts, told Playbill On-Line that his musical with composer Norman has a chamber-music sound. "It's rather cannily orchestrated for five pieces — a grand piano and a string quartet," he said.

Although he called it a "very classical" sound, the show is in the tradition of musical theatre, not opera. He and his composer "hate recitative," he admitted. It tells a story with book scenes and songs. There is no cast doubling in the chamber musical, Ouzounian said. The characters, pulled form the gothic novel, are Dracula, Jonathan Harker, Dr. Van Helsing, Dr. Seward, Renfield, Lucy and Mina. The production was preserved on video and aired on TVOntario and CBC and is available commercially from the Stratford Festival and TVOntario.

Norman and Ouzounian also collaborated on the musicals, Larry's Party (based on the novel of the same name by Carol Shields) and Emily (drawing on the children's classic, "Emily of New Moon"). Both shows are published by McArthur and Co.

Adding to the mix of vampire musicals in the U.S. in 2002 will be a Broadway staging of Jim Steinman's musical comedy, Dance of the Vampires, starring Michael Crawford, slated to start at the Minskoff in October 2002. The Vienna hit was to reach Broadway's Minskoff in March 2002 and open April 11, but the producer was not able to make things happen this season, owing, he said, to the Sept. 11 attacks on New York.

Crawford will play Count Von Krolock, a role that a Back Stage casting notice says requires a "male, any ethnicity, to play anywhere from 30 to 50 to 425 years old," portraying "the show's vampire, the seductive, diabolic, dramatic center of the show." Other roles include earnest hero Alfred; Herbert, the Count's "gay vampire son"; absent-minded Professor Abronsius; a Jewish innkeeper who's "almost a parody of Tevye from Fiddler on the Roof"; and "busty lusty" Magda.

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The Canadian Dracula seduced summer audiences at the Stratford Festival in Ontario for a 52-show run in 1999. More than 70,000 people saw it that year, with more tuning into TV broadcasts.

The gothic Stoker source material has inspired other musical theatre writers. A musical called Possessed (by librettists Jason Darrow and Charles Marasco, lyricist Darrow and composer Carter Cathcart) has found regional life in the U.S., and a recording of it is on store shelves.

On Oct. 18, 1999, a reading of yet another musical version was staged in Boston. That show, also called Dracula, is by Jay Gaither (music) and Owen Robertson (book and lyrics).

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Dodger Theatricals, Clear Channel Entertainment and Nederlander Presentations will give wing to a fall 2002 Broadway mounting of the Wildhorn musical, Dracula.

The sold-out, extended engagement ends at the La Jolla Playhouse Nov. 25. McAnuff won two Tony Awards for staging Big River and The Who's Tommy, respectively. He will stage the Broadway bow. Wildhorn is the adored-by-fans composer of Jekyll & Hyde, The Scarlet Pimpernel and The Civil War, which have all played on Broadway and the road.

Book and lyric credit is shared by Academy Award and Tony Award-winner Don Black (Sunset Boulevard, Aspects of Love) and Tony Award-winner Christopher Hampton (Sunset Boulevard, Les Liaisons Dangereuses).

In a statement, Michael David of Dodger Theatricals said of the Broadway confirmation, "We are delighted with the outstanding production of Dracula that Des and the creative team have put together at the La Jolla Playhouse. Our partners and the team now agree that with some further development this spring, we will have a truly extraordinary new American musical to present on Broadway in the fall of 2002."

It was not immediately clear if the "further development" meant an out-of-town tryout or private reconsidering of the material. No cast was announced. Designers are John Arnone (sets); Catherine Zuber (costumes); Howell Binkley (lighting); ACME Sound Partners (sound). Orchestrations are by Michael Starobin, with musical direction by Constantine Kitsopoulos.

The staging has been praised for its lush score, sexy bloodsuckers, the cast's acrobatics (yes, they fly) and for the special effects that help heighten the thrill of the terrifying supernatural romance.

According to the La Jolla program, the show has various locales: "Time and Place: Transylvania, the seacoast village of Whitby in England, the cities of London and Budapest, and across Europe aboard the Orient Express at the end of the Victorian era, just before the dawn of the 20th century."

— By Kenneth Jones