PLAYBILL ON OPENING NIGHT: Dracula Is Back in Town

Opening Night   PLAYBILL ON OPENING NIGHT: Dracula Is Back in Town Bats in the belfry would have been one thing, but Dracula had to contend with the playful ghost of David Belasco haunting his own Broadway house Aug. 19 when the bloodsucker swooped back to town, with the soaring music of Frank Wildhorn beneath his wings.
From Top: Frank Wildhorn, Des McAnuff, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Tom Hewitt and Kelli O'Hara, Melissa Errico, Matthew Nardozzi (left) and Michael Herwitz, Tommy Tune, Eartha Kitt, and Sutton Foster
From Top: Frank Wildhorn, Des McAnuff, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Tom Hewitt and Kelli O'Hara, Melissa Errico, Matthew Nardozzi (left) and Michael Herwitz, Tommy Tune, Eartha Kitt, and Sutton Foster Photo by Aubrey Reuben

Ol' Drac stopped in his track midway through Act II, thanks (or, rather, no thanks) to a damn door-jam. Three different actors gave the set-piece mighty tussles to no visible avail; one even knocked politely to give another actor a shot at opening it from the inside, but nothing worked, and a horse laugh may have been heard on high ringing in the rafters.

"That was the only thing Belasco did to us," sighed the show's obviously relieved director, Des McAnuff, when he at last had a chance to wind down at the post-premiere party in the Marriott Marquis' Broadway Ballroom. "He could have done a lot worse."

One technical glitch is a relatively light sentence when one ponders the problems that might have happened with such a complex and colorful set design (Heidi Ettinger, splashing it spectacularly high, wide and handsome). There have been horror stories in previews about sets that wouldn't stay up, but Stephen McKinley Henderson (the show's vampire-slaying Van Helsing and one of those mighty tusslers) declined to go into them. "I don't want to tell stories out of school. If you talk them up, they'll happen again. We'll talk sometime, and I'll give you all the stories. It's enough that they figured it out."

The uncomfortably public trial-and-error has paid off in some stunning visual effects. The Act I curtain falls, for instance, with the titular star of the night—the Bela of the Belasco, Tom Hewitt—suspended in midair, upside down, spreading gigantic wings over a happily horrified Melissa Errico.

Errico's classic beauty seems to belong to another century as well. "I seem to only work in corsets—that's my whole career," she said with a hoot. "I really love the idea that this is a Victorian woman who thinks her life is in control, and then she comes apart at the seams because she doesn't have desire in her life. I think that this is very interesting." Hewitt, oozing the Lugosi/Langella lubricant of suave menace, gives a commanding account of the count, but then, he said, "I've been working on it for three years. Seriously. It has made a difference—plus, I did the national tour of Urinetown last year, and, for some reason, that was rangy and athletic enough to put me into better shape for this."

His neatest trick is a split-second switcheroo where he drops a good 60 years in a single cape-swoop. "Isn't it awesome? We keep cutting time off of it. First, it was six measures. Now, it's down to four. I can do it in three, but I don't think they'll cut any more music."

Fittingly, his favorite personal moment occurs in the wings above the stage. "It's early in the first act—right after Kelli O'Hara sings that beautiful song, `The Mist' and before I float down to reprise it. I get to watch most of that scene from above, suspended up in my fly harness, and I get to stop for a minute and drink it all in and go `Cool!' I love that."

That's headway for an actor who came to the role with a pronounced fear of flying. "I was in a play at ART called Life Is a Dream, directed by Anne Bogart and Tina Landau, and my first entrance was hanging upside down on this inverted cross thing. I wasn't attached to anything. I was just sorta hooked on by the tops of my feet. I had to speak Spanish as I was coming down, so I was concentrating so much on the Spanish that I wasn't really realizing that I was 30 feet in the air. And then, as I got more comfortable with the words, I realized I was upside down and became debilitatingly fearful. I'd get sick to my stomach before I went out. These past weeks have sort of dispelled that. It's fun. It's so much fun."

Composer Wildhorn, when asked what the "Some Enchanted Evening" was in this show, cited "Before the Summer Ends" as a possible breakout hit—and his own favorite. One duet between Errico and O'Hara seems a shady Sondheimy, and he pleaded guilty to that: "It's a very different sound for me. I have two sopranos as opposed to a baritone and soprano. I wanted to do something that worked for the show. With each show, I try to reinvent myself a little bit. People don't realize I was 18 years old when I started to write Jekyll & Hyde—I was at USC—and now I'm 45 so I'm a different guy than I was then."

His wife, Linda Eder (they are separated), is still very much a part of his next project. "Camille Claudel has a big presentation in New York in October. We'll try to get Linda back to Broadway for it. Then, Leslie Bricusse and I are doing Cyrano in London next year, produced by Bill Kenwright. The next year, I'll do my show Vienna in Vienna."

McAnuff has two projects on the burner right now himself: "I'm doing Jersey Boys, the show about The Four Seasons, back at the La Jolla Playhouse—we're in rehearsals right now—and then I go right into the Billy Crystal project and bring that to Broadway."

The Tiny Tim of the show is Matthew Nardozzi, who is eight years old and, according to his father, "42 inches tall. He has done a few commercials up in Boston and some print ads for textbooks and some Stop and-Saves. He's loving every minute of this, too."

Among the first nighters, Tommy Tune stood tallest, as is his wont, wearing acres and acres of summer white. He had a very civilized intermission (drinks at the Royalton a block away). Raul Esparza was also spotted at intermission, in an Old Navy sweatshirt, visiting with first night pals. "I'm not seeing the show—I just live in the neighborhood." He's working on a workshop of Maury Yeston's next, Death Takes a Holiday.

James Barbour, Jane Eyre's Rochester, was in attendance, doing a spectacle atmosphere-soak (he's Sydney Carton in A Tale of Two Cities, which gets its final New York presentation today at the Little Shubert). Also, "Frank and I are working on some other things." One assumes the pose of Rodin's The Thinker. "I can't tell you." He's sticking to the Tale time zone for a PBS miniseries, "An American Experience: John and Abigail Adams." England's Simon Russell Beale will play America's second president.

Cady Huffman, looking luscious as ever on the arm of basketball coach hubby, isn't letting it get her down that her Tony-winning role in The Producers went to Nicole Kidman. She has her own movie going: Romance and Cigarettes, written and directed by John Turturro. "I'm dancing in it," she trilled. "It's a bizarre musical film. Christopher Walken and I have a whole choreographed dance scene to `Delilah,' sung by Tom Jones. (Save for Pennies From Heaven and a TV commercial, Walken has never reverted to his past as a Broadway gypsy. He was last seen as a stage hoofer in High Spirits).

Comedienne Jamie DeRoy, who produced Rick McKay's love offering documentary "Broadway: The Golden Age," relayed that her picture will be hitting her hometown of Pittsburgh today. "My mother calls up. `We have 16 people we're taking to the movie and then we're all going to dinner.' It will cost them several thousand dollars to do all that."

That 77-year-old institution, Eartha Kitt, was motoring quite nicely among the first-nighters after her recent car accident. "I only have a bruise on my arm and a scar on my back," she said. And is she ready for action again? "Rrrrrrrrr," she responded. "We're talking about doing my one-woman show again. I call it How Dare Me because I've been dared so many times in my life not to do something." And, of course, she always does it. Others in attendance: Jerry Orbach, the current 42nd Street's Patrick Cassidy and Meredith Patterson, Little Women's Sutton Foster, "The Sopranos"' Vincent Pastore, Jo Sullivan Loesser (mother-in-law of Dracula's Renfield, Don Stephenson), "All My Children"'s Christian Campbell and Eva La Rue, "Bare"'s Kaitland Hopkins, "Richard III"'s Peter Dinklage, "As the World Turns"' Bailey Chase and Edward Staudenmayer.

The opening night curtain call
The opening night curtain call Photo by Aurbey Reuben
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