Cue the Coffin: Dracula the Musical Opens Aug. 19 at the Belasco

News   Cue the Coffin: Dracula the Musical Opens Aug. 19 at the Belasco
 
The 1897 story of an Eastern European vampire with a taste for pale English flesh gets born again Aug. 19 with the Broadway opening of Dracula the Musical at the Belasco Theatre.
Tom Hewitt and Melissa Errico in Dracula the Musical
Tom Hewitt and Melissa Errico in Dracula the Musical Photo by Joan Marcus

Tom Hewitt (The Rocky Horror Show) stars in the title role, with Melissa Errico and Kelli O'Hara as his sexy Victorian quarry, Mina and Lucy, respectively. Des McAnuff directs the new musical with a score by composer Frank Wildhorn (The Scarlet Pimpernel, The Civil War) and book and lyrics co-written by Christopher Hampton (Les Liaisons Dangereuses, Sunset Blvd.) and Don Black (Aspects of Love, Sunset Blvd.).

Previews at the Belasco began July 30, behind schedule due to a backstage leak and the complexity of tech rehearsals for the lavish show.

Hewitt and an assortment of horrifying undead vampire vixens have been flying high over the stage for some 20 days leading to the opening. Changes and refinements have been ongoing.

The musical is inspired by Irishman Bram Stoker's gothic novel, "Dracula," and veers from the book somewhat to create fresh romance and new tensions along the way. Purists who know the book and other movie versions will be especially interested in the musical's surprise ending.

"I never thought the end of the novel was terribly strong," Tony Award-winner McAnuff (The Who's Tommy, Big River) told Playbill On-Line. "That was a real dilemma for us. I would even go so far to say almost the last third [of the book is weak]: The journey toward Castle Dracula, it just didn't have what we needed for a climax for this story. I think the end of the novel is one of those places where he ran out of steam. I don't think he knew how to wrap it up. For us, Mina represents death and freedom and love — I am reasonably pleased with [our ending] although I wouldn't be surprised if it were controversial." Composer Wildhorn is no stranger to popular pulp: He found enormous personal success writing the score to the violent thriller Jekyll & Hyde, seen regionally, on Broadway and around the world.

Dracula the Musical had a world premiere developmental run at the La Jolla Playhouse in California in 2001. About half the score has changed since then, McAnuff said.

"[With this story], you tend to get into slower tempo/minor key stuff fairly easily and we've gone in a very different direction this time around," the director said.

How is the pop musical different than the novel?

"In the novel, Dracula is very much a predator, lower down the food chain, a dark force that comes out of the East, but there is a no real connection between Mina and Dracula," McAnuff explained. "This clearly screamed to have a great love story in it. That great love story is really not there in the novel. There is a love story, but it's really between all of the men and Mina after Lucy's death. It was very clear, after doing it in La Jolla, we needed a strong spine for the story: Dracula goes after Lucy first, then she disappears, and Mina dominates the second act. We learned we had to go back, dramaturgically, and strengthen that bond."

(The novel is told in journal entries and letters and has remained an international best seller over the last century.)

Fans of the Stoker classic about vampires should expect cinematic effects, sensuous video projection, an art nouveau design by Heidi Ettinger and flying blood suckers, courtesy of the respected special effects company Flying by Foy, of Peter Pan fame. "Aerial staging" is by Rob Besserer.

The production also features Don Stephenson as Renfield, Darren Ritchie as Jonathan Harker, Kelli O'Hara as Lucy Westenra, Chris Hoch as Arthur Holmwood, Bart Shatto as Quincey Morris, Shonn Wiley as Jack Seward and Stephen McKinley Henderson as Abraham Van Helsing, with Celina Carvajal, Melissa Fagan, Jenifer Foote, Anthony Holds, Pamela Jordan, Elizabeth Loyacano, Tracy Miller, Graham Rowat, Megan Sikora and Chuck Wagner.

Choreography is by Mindy Cooper, with musical direction by conductor Constantine Kitsopoulos. Orchestrations are by Doug Besterman. Designers are Heidi Ettinger (scenic), Catherine Zuber (costume), Howell Binkley (lighting) and Acme Sound Partners (sound).

Designer Ettinger is remembered for her Tony-winning work designing the physical worlds for the Broadway musicals The Secret Garden and Big River.

Dracula, The Musical is produced on Broadway by Dodger Stage Holding and Joop van den Ende, in association with Clear Channel Entertainment.

Tickets are on sale now through www.telecharge.com or (212) 239-6200 and (800) 223-7565 or at the Belasco Theatre (111 West 44th Street).

Visit www.DraculaonBroadway.com.

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During previews, producers announced that, starting Aug. 25, the talked-about nudity of the show's leading ladies would not be seen at matinees, apparently as a concession by producers to attract family audiences. However, midday Aug. 19, a press statement reversed that stance, saying, "The producers of Dracula on Broadway, have announced that the PG-13 status of the new musical will apply to all performances. The G-rated version of the Dracula, which was planned for certain matinees, will disappear. " 

In previews, female nudity emerged as one of the talked about aspects of the production.

"Let them talk about it," McAnuff said. "They're lining up. Whatever gets them into the theatre. I'm very proud of this piece and I want people to see it. I just hope young people get to see it, too. We're selling the balcony very inexpensively, and it has been packed with young goths. I'm not surprised people are talking about the nudity. I don't think there's anything exploitive about it. With Lucy, it's a tremendously vulnerable moment. In that image you get the horror and the repulsion and also the eroticism and the attraction all mixed together in this strange concoction, which I guess is vampire sexuality."

Kelli O'Hara's Lucy, sans nightgown, is confronted by the titular vampire count in her bedchamber. As rehearsals continued, Melissa Errico's ecstatic Mina ended up baring her bosom as Dracula drew near.

A sign at the box office at the Belasco indicates the show is rated PG-13, which, translated from the movie industry definition, advises that parents be "strongly cautioned" that "some material may be inappropriate for children under 13."

One company member pointed out the cultural irony that the violence, blood, fear, terror and murder in Dracula is apparently more acceptable to some audiences than any hint of flesh.

A glimpse of skin in the staging shouldn't be so surprising: Since it was first published in 1897, "Dracula" by Bram Stoker has be seen by many as being about unleashing the passions that simmer under Victorian corsets and waistcoats.

"The very idea of exchanging fluids is a huge metaphor for sex," said one Dracula company member. "'I am penetrating your skin, I am drinking from you': It's a very sexual metaphor, and people already know that from the mythology of Dracula. If they come in prepared to see people bitten, why aren't they prepared for more?"

In other words, were you expecting Little Women?

Stephen McKinley Henderson in <i>Dracula the Musical</i>
Stephen McKinley Henderson in Dracula the Musical Photo by Joan Marcus
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