Dance of the Vampires

Minskoff Theatre, NYC - Jan. 6, 2003

Reviewed by John Kenrick

This travesty doesn't suck -- it barely sips.

Like most spectacular flops, Dance of the Vampires tries to go in too many directions at once, and consequently gets nowhere. However, those who are calling it another Carrie are completely off the mark. Carrie infuriated audiences because it alternated idiotically misconceived numbers with moments of dazzling, wasted potential. Dance of the Vampires offers no brilliant highs or wallowing lows – just hours of relentless, over-produced tedium.

There isn't much to the plot, but here goes: according to an ancient prophesy, if the Carpathian vampire Count Von Krolock succeeds in seducing the virginal maiden Sarah at midnight on Halloween in the year "1880-something" (that's how the script puts it), vampires will take over the world. Professor Abronsious, an obvious idiot who has inexplicably succeeded in ridding the world of every other vampire, attempts to save Sarah. Of course, the professor's handsome young assistant Alfred falls in love with Sarah, and Count Von Krolock's gay vampire son Herbert falls for Alfred. So the question is (pardon the expression) who will be sucking whom before the final curtain?

A disaster like this always begins when people who should have had the sense to say "no" go against their judgment and say "yes." The first culprits are producers and backers, who can only blame themselves for the millions they'll lose on this one. What ever made them think this mish-mosh could work on Broadway? The idea of turning Roman Polanski's quirky 1967 film The Fearless Vampire Killers into a musical had genuine potential, and this stage version by pop composers Michael Kunze and Jim Steinman was a hit in Germany.

But one has to wonder if the various New York producers (most with impressive track records) ever bothered to read the script or listen to the score. If they had, it would have been painfully clear that this show is a mess. It cannot make up its mind what it is trying to be, teetering between a Les Miz-style pop operetta, a Rent-style rock musical, and a Urinetown-style spoof. Vampires might have succeeded had it stuck to any one of those approaches, but trying to be all three at once amounts to stylistic self destruction. The score lacks so much as one memorable musical number. Even the pop hit "Total Eclipse of the Heart" fails to enliven things. And none of it is enjoyably bad – its just mind-numbingly blah.

The talented members of the creative team certainly forgot to say "no." Urinetown director John Rado cannot breathe life into this undead show. Now and then a giggle sneaks in, but it is almost always one of embarrassment. Many who enjoyed Urinetown thought John Carrafa's galumphing dance routines were clever comic creations – but his almost identical dances here make me wonder if this is all the guy has to offer.

Ken Billington is one of Broadway's finest lighting designers, but I was appalled by the way he opened the proceedings with a prolonged and blinding light-rape of the audience -- physically painful and a waste of major bucks to boot. Perhaps Billington hoped to mercifully blind everyone to David Gallo's clumsy sets and Ann Gould-Ward's ugly costumes. Broadway projects being few and far between these days, I realize it is hard to resist a check – but all of these talented people work often enough to avoid such an obvious clunker.

The cast appears a bit demoralized (small wonder), with several barely walking through their roles. Michael Crawford has waited fifteen years to return to Broadway, and it's a pity he didn't wait fifteen more -- or at least until a decent new project came along. He has a thankless role as the bloodthirsty count, and aside from a pretty note here and there, gives a lackluster performance. He looks so stiff that one wonders if he isn't suffering from a back ailment.

The usually hilarious Rene Auberjonois is surprisingly lifeless as Professor Abronsious. Thanks to the witless script, he is unable to win a single decent laugh. Mandy Gonzalez and Max Von Essen sing capably enough as the young lovers, but both lack any hint of star quality – in fact, they look and sound like understudies in a low-budget regional theatre. As the Count's son, Asa Somers offers a mincing gay stereotype that is far too mean spirited to qualify as comedy. Instead of being merely tacky, it's outright offensive.

But of all the people who did not have the good sense to say "no" to Dance of the Vampires, the ultimate blame rests with the audience. At the performance I attended, most of the sparse crowd stood and cheered at the curtain calls. Shame on them all. Anyone willing to cheer for this garbage deserved exactly what they got.

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