The new Elton John-Bernie Taupin musical, Lestat, opens April 25, boasting a reunion for the pop songwriters of "Candle in the Wind," and marking the first time they've paired for a theatrical project.
The property they plunder is the work of gothic novelist Anne Rice, whose "Vampire Chronicles" are best sellers. Linda Woolverton penned the libretto, Robert Jess Roth directed and Matt West handled musical staging. All three are veterans of the Disney smash, Beauty and the Beast, which began at the Palace Theatre, where Lestat is now perched.
The creative team was augmented by choreographer Jonathan Butterell (The Light in the Piazza, Fiddler on the Roof), who was brought onto the project after the late 2005 tryout in San Francisco. The show has undergone some major surgery since early this year. (A conceit of Lestat typing his memoirs into a laptop, with super titles being shown to the audience, has been abandoned since San Francisco.)
The curtain went up on Lestat on Broadway March 25. The first preview coincided with Sir Elton John's 59th birthday. John was quoted early in the creative process as saying the score was written in two weeks. There have been changes and additions to the score in recent months.
Warner Bros. Theatre Ventures, making its producing debut on Broadway, brought Butterell onto the project as a little extra insurance that the show would be in shape. (He was not credited in the Playbill in the first week of previews.) Here's how the producer bills Lestat: "The romantic and heartbreaking story of the extraordinary journey of one man who escapes the tyranny of his oppressive family only to have his life taken from him. Thrust into the seductive and sensual world of an immortal vampire, Lestat sets out on a road of adventures in a quest for everlasting love and companionship but is forced to reconcile his innate sense of good with his primal need to exist."
The San Francisco company remains intact for Broadway (with some additions), featuring Hugh Panaro as the title vampire and Carolee Carmello (Mamma Mia!, Parade) as Gabrielle, Drew Sarich as Armand, Jim Stanek as Louis, Roderick Hill as Nicolas, Michael Genet as Marius and Allison Fischer as Claudia. Lestat's cast of 21 features Rachel Coloff, Nikki Renee Daniels, Joseph Dellger, Colleen Fitzpatrick, Sean MacLaughlin, Patrick Mellen, Chris Peluso, Dominque Plaisant, Megan Reinking, Sarah Solie, Amy Sparrow, Will Swenson, Steve Wilson and Tommar Wilson.
Lestat had its world premiere Dec. 17, 2005-Jan. 29 at the Curran Theatre in San Francisco.
Lestat is Elton John's third musical for Broadway following The Lion King and Aida. He also wrote songs for the smash London musical Billy Elliott, which has yet to be announced for a Broadway bow.
The changes to the script and score since San Fran are "radical," Elton John told Playbill's Harry Haun.
"I just finished writing another two songs for Lestat," John said in February. "One's called 'My Beautiful Boy,' and one's called 'Right Before My Eyes.' Like with Billy Elliott, I wrote an extra song quite late in the day, and we left some songs out. And that's par for the course when you're a composer for a musical. You kinda have to leave your ego at the door and see some songs you really like bite the dust and you have to write some other ones because, in every show, the story changes."
Is the plot different since San Francisco?
"The storyline has certainly changed in Lestat — and it's still changing in Billy Elliott, to be honest with you," John said. "That's still going on. We're just trying to sharpen it up and make it better. And I think that's the way a musical has to keep going. Otherwise, you don't keep it fresh, and it becomes stale. But when you're actually working on a musical and it hasn't actually opened yet, you want to get it as good as it can be. You're working on it right up to the eleventh hour. And that's what we'll be doing with Lestat, with the two new songs…"
John explained, "'My Beautiful Boy' is done by Lestat's mother, Carolee Carmello, and 'Right Before My Eyes' is done by Lestat, Hugh Panaro."
How has the show changed since San Francisco?
"I think the first act we'll radically change," John said. "I think something will change in the second act—the opening in New Orleans will be much more ensemble than it was before. And there are more ensemble pieces being put into the first act. Two new songs. New beginning. New ending. It's quite radically changed. The beginning of Billy Elliott changed about 10 days before the opening of the show. That seems to be the way musicals work. It's an evolutionary process."
John isn't writing pop songs for Lestat — it's a more complex process than that.
"Lestat I found to be particularly draining because the songs are much longer, more complex than anything else I've ever written, and I really enjoyed the process of writing Lestat," he said. "They’re much more wordy songs. It's much more serious subject. You're writing about a vampire, and you're writing about a more complex situation than you normally would. Billy Elliott is a '70s pastiche, and it's very straightforward. It's political, but it's very straightforward. Here, you’re writing stuff that's coming from the 19th century and its historical base as well so you've got to get the music. It's 180 degrees away from Billy Elliott. I've never done anything like this before. Never. I think it's my finest piece of work as far as writing for the stage goes."
How is the score different?
"Different because there are no electronic instruments in it," John said. "I wanted it to be like that. It's totally organic, in a way. We may have to use a couple of synthesizers to emulate string sounds because the actual score is quite huge—and we just can't afford to have that kind of orchestra on Broadway.
"For me, it's not rock 'n' roll whatsoever. I mean, it changes in the second half, when it goes to New Orleans—and a little New Orleans music creeps in. But, generally, it's totally different from Aida and Billy and Lion King. I don't really see the point of doing something, one after the other, if you're not going to do something different."
On the topic of the two failed vampire shows — Dance of the Vampires and Dracula — that came before Lestat, John told Playbill's Harry Haun, "I didn't see the musicals so I can't judge what they were like, but we did [go] into this, saying there are going to be no dancing vampires and no garlic. We tried to stay about from the cliched version. But you can't be bothered by what everybody else has done. It is a difficult subject matter. We know that's a challenge. The others didn't do very well, but we're just concerned with what we're doing."
John and Taupin represent one of the great marriages of pop songwriting. They started working together in the 1960s, and their hits include "Candle in the Wind" and "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road."
Now, they are turning to a new form for them: Musical theatre rather than pop albums. Think of their new team-up as "together again for the first time."
"Elton and I have threatened for years to work together on something for Broadway but until now had never found anything that appealed to both of us collectively or suited my own personal writing style," Taupin said in production notes. "We have unified [the Anne Rice] books into a linear storyline and our intention is to make a stylish, sexy, intelligent and richly hypnotic show that is stripped of gothic clichés and that shows the vampire dealing with his damnation on a more realistic and human level. Please let me make this clear this is not a rock opera."
"This musical is the fulfillment of my deepest dreams," said author Anne Rice, in a statement. "Elton's music and Bernie's lyrics have captured the pain and the passion of the characters perfectly, and the entire adaptation has re-created the very essence of the books. Working with the whole team — Rob Roth, Linda Woolverton, and of course Elton and Bernie — has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my entire career. The talent, the brilliance, and the generosity of these folks is beyond belief. I'm humbled; I'm grateful; and I'm so excited that I can hardly stand it. Lestat, Louis and Claudia are about to be reborn."
Elton John said in production notes, "'Interview with the Vampire' is one of my favorite books and Anne Rice is one of my favorite authors. Lestat is the first stage musical that I've written with Bernie which makes it even more special for me."
"Anne had always loved the idea of seeing her 'Vampire Chronicles' set in some sort of serious and seductive musical setting and for all of the parties involved this is the opportunity of a lifetime," stated Taupin.
The creative team includes scenic designer Derek McLane, costume designer Susan Hilferty, lighting designer Kenneth Posner, sound designer Jonathan Deans, visual concept designer Dave McKean, wig and hair designer Tom Watson, make-up designer Angelina Avallone, fight director Rick Sordelet and projections coordinator Howard Werner.
Lestat has orchestrations by Steve Margoshes and Guy Babylon, with musical supervision by Guy Babylon, musical direction, incidental music and additional vocal arrangements by by Brad Haak, and vocal arrangements by Todd Ellison.
There will be no 2 PM matinee Wednesday April 26. There will be an added 2 PM matinee on Friday April 28. The regular playing schedule for Lestat, beginning Tuesday May 2 is as follows: Tuesday at 7 PM, Wednesday through Saturday at 8 PM, with matinees Wednesday and Saturday at 2 PM, and Sunday at 3 PM. Tickets range from $65 to $110, and can be purchased through Ticketmaster.com at (212) 307-4100.
For more information, visit www.lestat.com.
The list of musical numbers from the opening night Playbill follow. Characters who sing the tunes are not indicated, to offer a sense of surprise.
From the Dead
Right Before My Eyes
Make Me As You Are
To Live Like This
The Crimson Kiss
Welcome to the New World
I Want More
I'll Never Have That Chance
Sail Me Away
To Kill Your Kind
Embrace It (Reprise)
After All This Time