About This Blog

I really like theatre, and I like writing and talking about it.

This blog is mostly about my relationship with theatre, the moments that make me fall in love with this art form, and the times when we don't always get along.

I'll be writing about things that I like, that I think are good and interesting and want to share. I will probably also write about things that I don't quite get, or think are wierd. I may also write about things that aren't theatre, strictly speaking, because it's my blog and I can.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Vampire Wrap-Up (and extras)

Well, I hope everyone liked my vampire musical posts! You might want to go back and take another look at the Dance of the Vampires and Dracula posts; in my research I found a little more media to add, so those both have new videos at the ends.

So, why have vampire musicals struggled so much in the past 10 years?
Dance of the Vampires-muddled by competing artistic visions, but still going strong in its original version in Germany and Austria.
Dracula- suffered from major narrative issues, an issue somewhat remedied for overseas productions
Lestat- not a perfect show, but a victim of vampire burnout more than anything else.

Film and television may still be trying to capitalize on the recent vampire trend, but after the quick and bizarre run of a recent Dracula stage play (more on that in another post), I have a feeling we won't see any more vamps on a Broadway stage for a while.

Now for some fun and extras: Lesser Vampire Musicals:

The North Shore Music Theatre in Beverly, MA produced a production of Dracula: A Chamber Musical. Written by Canadian theatre critic Richard Ouzounian, it was more popular in his native country. This review in Variety is not particularly flattering. I found a still from the North Shore production, and a clip of a song that I think is from the Canadian production, but I'm honestly not sure. There's apparently a DVD available, but I haven't had any luck finding video.

A recording of the main love duet (along with production stills) from a recent Swedish version, written in English:

And now for the fun part: The Dracula Puppet Musical from Jason Segel's film Forgetting Sarah Marshall. This rockin' version of "Dracula's Lament" was done for the Craig Ferguson show:

and in original flavor:


Thursday, January 27, 2011


So now I come to the most recent Broadway attempt at getting vampires on stage, based on the Anne Rice novel, and with music by Elton John.

The show did well box office-wise in its out of town tryouts, probably due to the notoriety of the artists and material. This show opened in 2006, right on the heels of two previous vampiric flops, and critics had probably had about all they could take. It closed after 39 performances.

Now, I haven't read the novel Lestat, but I have read Interview With The Vampire (and seen the film, of course). But it sounds like one of the problems this show encountered is that it tried to cram the plots of both of those novels into the show, and too many extraneous details. For example, in the novels, when drinking from a victim, their live flashes before the vampire's eyes. This was depicted in the show through video projections, and while the quality of the special effects was generally praised, it actually has nothing to do with the plot.

While many of the technical elements and performances managed to impress critics, the music did not do as well, and the lyrics were said to be overly literal.

Okay, lyricists. What going on? Time to step up. Look at my last couple posts of heavily-criticized shows; the other two vampire musicals,  Love Never Dies...it seems like music that is "just ok" can be elevated by insightful, poetic lyrics--or completely destroyed by plodding, pedestrian ones.

The difference between this and the other two shows? Well, it's not big in Germany. It has not gone on to success in any other markets, or had any other stagings since Broadway. It also has not had an offiicial cast recording released.

This was the official advertisement. Didn't actually give you an idea of what the show would look like. No actual songs from the musical in there, either.

Luckily, we have bootleg Youtube videos to show us what the production looked/sounded like. The performers are Drew Sarich and Hugh Panaro:

As I was watching these clips, I remembered that Lestat has the distinction of being way less heterosexual than Dracula or Dance of the Vampires. That probably didn't help make the show more popular with mainstream audiences, either.

Here's the New York Times review: http://theater.nytimes.com/2006/04/26/theater/reviews/26lest.html

Saturday, January 22, 2011


It's a peculiar issue with Frank Wildhorn musicals; they typically open to poor critical reception, but are popular with fans and run for years, but still close losing money in the end. Jekyll & Hyde and The Scarlet Pimpernel in particular have continued to be extremely popular in regional theaters. He has a knack for yearning power ballads, like Dance of the Vampire's Jim Steinman, and tends to write musicals based on classic literature (in addition to Jekyll & Hyde and Pimpernel, his works include versions of The Count of Monte Cristo and Cyrano DeBergerac). So Dracula fits well within his repetoire.

Dracula, however, wasn't as popular with audiences as some of his other work, and closed after only 157 performances. The show received much publicity for its spectacular special effects--such as Dracula crawling head-first down the walls, and a brief nude scene from one of the female leads. The main complaints critics had about the show was that it was lacking in emotion and tension, the lyrics were rather pedestrian, and the plot was fairly incomprehensible to anyone who wasn't completely familiar with the novel. They weren't impressed with the music, either.

So the show closed on Broadway, but after some revisions went on to greater success in ...stop me if this sounds familiar...Austria and Germany!

I managed to find the German cast album on iTunes, and I actually really like a lot of the songs. It looked like they fixed a lot of the things that weren't working about the Broadway production, but I can see why people had issues with the story. For example, Dracula comes to London and starts seducing Lucy, but he really has big plans for her best friend and Jonathan Harker's fiancee, Mina. He has one little voice-over of Mina hearing him speaking in her mind, and suddenly they're singing about how deep their love is, and how Mina is so conflicted about marrying Jonathan.

On YouTube, I found that someone posted an entire TV recording of the Austrian production in chunks. There's no subtitles, but my German is good enough that I was able to keep up. I really like the performers, but it has some weird staging issues. There's a living room unit at the front of the stage with a door and couch stage right, and a desk and stair unit far right. They do a lot of split-stage stuff with action going on in the front, and then you see the graveyard or Dracula's castle behind them (Check out a clip of  the love duet "Whitby Bay" below to see what I mean.) The problem is, that living room set is always there, even when nothing's going on in the foreground. And then there's the most uncomfortable sex scene I've ever witnessed in a musical, when Dracula's brides seduce Jonathan at 08:00  below:

I was confused by Jonathan's anachronistic wife-beater style undershirt; then I understood when I realized that the brides have to tear it off him every night!

One of the things I think they did get right in this story is the seduction and transformation of Lucy. Caroline Vasicek plays the role really well, and has a youthful look that makes her seduction even creepier. Thomas Borchert plays Dracula, and I like him a lot. He's got a great voice and stage presence; he's really minimal in the way he plays the character, which I think actually makes him more captivating. I do have a bit of an issue with the design, though; he doesn't really look vampiric at all, and also Lucy's burial costume is a pretty blatant rip-off of the Francis Ford Coppola film.

Anyway, watch these two videos, because this was my favorite part of the show. In the first video, Lucy has fallen ill, but secretly invites Dracula in ("come and satisfy your thirst on me"). In the second video, Arthur comes to wake her, but she attacks him. Vampire expect Van Helsing subdues her, and she dies. After a brief scene in the graveyard, Dracula and Mina sing of their plans to "go drinking" together, while Van Helsing and Co. plan to stop them.

So while there are a lot of things I like about this show, I can see the story problems than held it back. Despite its success in Austria, I don't think this staging entirely overcame those problems, although it toned down the over-the-top effects for a more even presentation.

EDIT: I found a promotional clip of actual footage from the Broadway version, although it doesn't show much:

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Dance of The Vampires

I'm going to start with Dance of the Vampires, as it was the first in a chain of bloodsucking failures in the last decade, and also it was a notable flop at the time it premiered on Broadway.

It's also noteworthy because the show had already enjoyed great success in Austria and Germany for several years before going to Broadway, and continues to play there to this day. There's an interesting connection to the German theatre scene that you'll notice across the next few posts.

It's always best to start at the beginning (and continue on until you come to the end, then stop). So this story starts in 1967 with Roman Polanksi's horror-comedy film The Fearless Vampire Killers.

The original musical version actually premiered in 1997 in Vienna, Austria. The German lyrics are by Michael Kunze, and the music was written by Jim Steinman, best known for his work with Meatloaf and Bonnie Tyler (think big ol' power ballads). As a matter of fact "Total Eclipse of the Heart" is actually in Tanz Der Vampir, as a love duet for the leads.

However, they massively re-wrote the Broadway version so that it  turned into this mish-mash of sensuous gothic romance (I suspect in an attempt to cash in on "Phantom" success) and Mel Brooks style parody. It was like two different shows which were incredibly at odds with one another. The results looked something like this:

After a prolonged development period and 61 previews, the show finally opened, was trounced by critics, ran for 56 performances, and then closed, losing a crapload of money.

The show is still running successfully in it's original version in Europe; if you're ever in Stuttgart, you can see it for yourself. As far as I know there is no cast recording of the Broadway version, but you can download the Austrian cast album on iTunes. 

EDIT: I was poking around the website for the current production in Germany, and I found a nice video of the show I thought I'd share. Check it out!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Why Do Vampire Musicals always fail?

Soon I'm going to start digging into topics that really interest me, and they're all going to take some time to write and collect research, media, etc. So I thought I'd start by giving a little overview of some of the post I'm planning so I don't overwhelm my readers (and myself).

So, I have a little bit of a fascination with vampire musicals. It seems to make all the sense in the world that they should be incredibly successful on Broadway. Frank Langella had a huge hit starring in a straight-play version of Dracula designed by Edward Gorey. And yet, every vampire musical that has gone to Broadway has been a miserable failure.

The main ones are:
Dance of the Vampires- 2002, based on the Roman Polanski film "The Fearless Vampire Killers", music by Jim Steinman
Dracula- 2004, based on the Bram Stoker novel, music by Frank Wildhorn
Lestat- 2006, based on the Anne Rice novel, music by Elton John.

And to a lesser extent:
Dracula: A Chamber Musical- debuted in 1999, but has never played Broadway/New York. Based on the Bram Stoker novel, music by Richard Ouzounian
and Jason Segel's Dracula Puppet Musical from Forgetting Sarah Marshall

So I'll be starting in on those posts next. If I were to ever have to do a thesis paper or something like that, this would definitely be my topic. Why can't these shows make it work? They generally have the same gothic romantic sensibility of something like "Phantom". Is there only room for one show like that on Broadway? In each post I'll be able to explore the shortcomings of the individual shows, but I'd love feedback on why the supernatural gothic romance musical genre is struggling. Would these shows work now, in the Twilight/Glee era?

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

To Be Beautiful and Upsetting

So this isn't exactly the most timely post, but I was feeling particularly inspired this morning. My very thoughtful and intelligent parents noticed my post on Mark Morris's The Hard Nut and bought me the DVD for Christmas.

There's a great little documentary in the bonus features, and my favorite part come when Morris is talking about his inspiration, and why he wanted to work with comic artist Charles Burns, and he describes his work as "beautiful and upsetting." I heard that and thought, how marvelous! I would love to create something beautiful and upsetting. I think that's a fantastic goal for an artist.

As I expected, there were things I understood and appreciated about the show that I didn't pick up on when I was younger. For example, I was excited and amused when I realized, as a child, that the maid/nurse is played by a man (on pointe, no less). Now coming at it as an adult, I realized that there's tons of roles in the show that are played by the opposite sex, such as Fritz and Mrs. Stahlbaum/the Queen. Also, the snow and flower ensembles are completely mixed gender because, to quote Morris, "Nature means everyone". That makes a ton of sense to me!

The reason that I was inspired today is I was reading this New York Times article about the book "Apollo's Angels", and the following quote jumped out at me:

"My own main alarm about ballet...is that its dependence on pointwork for women and partnering by men proposes a dichotomizing view of the sexes that is at best outmoded and at worst repellently sexist."

And that blew my mind, because it's exactly the thing that I realized I was noticing for the first time about The Hard Nut. It's incredibly equal-opportunity: men partner men, whole groups partner each other, and the men are on pointe as often as the women are. Morris makes the choice which is most appropriate for the music or the character, whether that's using an "ugly" step instead of a more graceful one, or putting a man in pointe shoes.

One thing that always bothered me about traditional versions of The Nutcracker is that the second act doesn't have a plot. They go to the Land of Sweets and party. Instead, The Hard Nut takes the opportunity to actually use the original Hoffman story, and explain how Drosselmeier's nephew came to be transformed into a nutcracker. This also gives more stage time to Drosselmeier, who is my favorite character in the show. On the DVD he's played by Rob Besserer, who I discovered has worked with the Metropolitan Opera lately in silent character/pantomime roles. As it happens, this spring he'll be appearing in Le Comte Ory, which I was planning to see anyway, so that's an added bonus.

Speaking of the Met's live transmissions, I wonder if this would be an effective tool for ballet, as well? Thoughts?

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Can We Fix This?


I saw the above article on Playbill.com recently, and decided now would probably be a good time to talk about Love Never Dies.

As I've mentioned in previous posts, I'm a big fan of The Phantom of the Opera. I've been listening to the music since I was a kid, and I love it. I love lots of Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals; Jesus Christ Superstar, Evita, There's some great songs in Song & Dance/Tell Me on A Sunday and Aspects of Love. However, I can't say I've enjoyed his work over the past 10 or so years. The stuff he's doing know would have worked 20 years ago, but you need to keep with the times to be relevant as an artist. And his incredible hubris leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Just watch any of the BBC reality shows where ingenue wannabes compete for roles in West End musicals--he's sitting in a huge gold throne the entire time.

So, not knowing when to quit, Lloyd Webber is continuing to milk his favorite cash cow with a sequel to The Phantom of the Opera, titled Love Never Dies. I was nervous about it when they first announced they were working on a sequel, because at the time it was supposedly going to be based on Frederick Forsyth's novel The Phantom of Manhattan. A well-meaning relative knew I was a fan of the original, and picked up a copy of the book for me. It was horrible. Parts of it were really goofy, there was some really contrived ret-cons (a nerd term meaning "retroactive continuity", i.e. changing stuff that already happened to suit the current plot), and huge sections were only slightly adapted from the first story.

(FAIR WARNING: Mild spoilers within)

Luckily, most of that was indeed thrown out. I was skeptical when reviews came out saying that they weren't using the story, because I was still hearing that it took place 10 years later on Coney Island, where the Phantom has used his skills as an architect and illusionist to build an amusement park, and Christine is now a famous opera singer who is coming to town with her husband Raoul and their young son, Gustave--which is exactly what happened in Forsyth's book. Luckily, it sounds like that's where the similarities end.

A big part of the plot of Love Never Dies are the jealousy issues between Raoul and the Phantom. Let's be honest, every woman wanted Christine to pick the Phantom. Raoul is rich and handsome and secure, but the Phantom is sexy, dangerous, and passionate. So Raoul is a bit dull, and the Phantom is a psychotic madman, but other than that they are both deserving of Christine's love; it's just that the Phantom needs her more, and you want to believe that her love can redeem him (as evidenced at the end of the original show--she kisses him, and he lets Raoul go free). But there's no tension unless you believe Christine could have chosen either of them.
So in my opinion, it's kind of cheating for Love Never Dies to turn Raoul into a complete heel. He is cruel to his son, he has a drinking problem and gambling debts. It's just too easy! Who would pick that guy?

And it sounds like that was one of the main problems with the production--the stakes weren't high enough, and it was lacking in tension (plus some of the plot being confusing when it wasn't being predictable). If the reviews are to be believed, they managed to clear up some of those issues, although it sounds like the book and pedestrian libretto are still the weakest part of the show.
The highest praise went to stars Ramin Karimloo and Sierra Boggess for their impressive singing, and to the set and projection designs. Many critics also liked the music, although some felt the show tried to squeeze too much out of just a few melodies.

Speaking of which, let's watch some clips! Here's the official music video for "Til' I Hear You Sing". Karimloo sounds gorgeous, but this song feels a bit like someone said "We need another 'Music of the Night'", instead of saying "We need a good song for the Phantom that sets up his motivation".

Here's the best video I could find of Sierra Boggess singing the title song. Her interpretation is great, but the end sounds a little uncomfortable for her. It might just be the quality of the recording, though; I feel like I've heard her sing better elsewhere.

So, for a man who sits on a throne on TV shows, I have to give Lloyd Webber I still don't think I'm very impressed with it, but I'm glad they're concerned about whether the rest of the audience is.

Opening Night Reviews:

Reviews after the revisions:

Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Day Everything Closed

Today's Broadway Closures:

West Side Story
Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown
Brief Encounter
Promises, Promises
Elf-The Musical
The Pee-Wee Herman Show
Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson

Wow. That's a lot, guys. Some of these were limited engagements, so that's not as bad. But at least if a good show like Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson has to go, it's taking Elf down with it.
I hope we don't see too many days like this one in the future.