KPBS AIRDATE: August 16, 1995
God knows we’re a bloodthirsty society. Never enough action, never enough gore. And we inevitably intertwine sex with violence, passion with death. So what timeless legend could satisfy our bloodlust more than ‘Dracula’? We never seem to tire of the saga, a tall tale based on the real Prince Vlad the Impaler, ruler of Transylvania and what is now Rumania, a vampiric horror story popularized for a thousand spinoffs by novelist Bram Stoker in 1897.
Well, the caped count is back, sucking and singing. In a lush new local production, “Dracul” is a world premiere musical, and an aptly opulent Gothic romance. To be perfectly sanguine, it’s delicious. Romantic and sexy and magical and melodramatic. With its irresistible centerpiece, mind- controlled maidens and dancing schizophrenics, it makes you feel like The Phantom has met Marat-Sade at the Rocky Horror Show.
Six years in the making, with an afterlife already planned in Poway, Toronto and London, “Dracul” is thoroughly likable and destined for success. The sets and costumes are delightfully elaborate and versatile; the music is luxuriant, if a bit overblown and derivative at times; the lyrics are serviceable, if not inspired. And it was sheer genius to get choreographer John Malashock involved. His inventive, angular signature marks the asylum scenes with writhing brilliance. Director Sam Woodhouse has done a masterful job. And Laura Preble’s book has give some lovely little twists to the plot-line. This is a story less of demonic forces than of lost love and immortal revenge.
In the first scene, we see Lucy, drawn inexorably, to a dark, foggy cemetery, underscored with eerie strings and portentous percussion. She grows paler, weaker, more passionate and bloodless as the act proceeds, but before she succumbs completely, Danielle Forsgren uses her supremely flavorful soprano to enrich “Splendid,” a pleasant number which she turns into a real crowd-pleaser.
(SOUND BITE: “Splendid”)
Meanwhile, Lucy’s friend Mina, the mousy schoolmarm, gets sucked into the sensuality. She, of course, chooses passion, danger and undying love for the mysterious Count over endlessly dull days with her humdrum fiancé. Nell Balaban makes a marvelous transition as Mina, and her rich, lyrical voice is magical.
The comic relief is provided by Doren Elias as Renfield, the sound-minded madman who steals the stage when he cannily slithers across it in pursuit of a tasty spider. He gets a grand comic song, “Phobia,” which he sings to the hapless Dr. Harker (Bruce McKenzie, really out of his element here, except when he takes a spectacular bellyflop pratfall).
(SOUND BITE: “Phobia”)
Centerstage, resplendent in a series of black and scarlet capes, is Jeffrey Meek as Count Vlad de Dracul. As he was in “Burn This” at the Rep several years back, Meek is a charismatic, can’t-take-your-eyes-off-him presence. Statuesque. Very ominous. Very erotic. A bit tentative in the singing department, but he pulls it off with his resonant voice and lascivious look. In an unforgettable moment, just before he bites Mina, he fully extends his tongue and licks her neck, all the way up from shoulder to ear. Ooohh, it gave me the chills.
Which only goes to prove that, even after a century, Dracula still stands tall —- bloody, but unbowed.
I’m Pat Launer, KPBS radio.
©1995 Patté Productions Inc.