Dracula Sings; Blood Curdles

Review of World Premiere of 'Dracula' as Musical

Poster Paris (Le Pecq):- Thursday, 22. February, 1996:- It was a very dark, very cold night, snowing, in Le Pecq this evening as the house lights dimmed in the Salle des Fêtes at 20:30, and stayed dim or went out entirely, as the first performance the new musical, 'Dracula,' skulked through the evening.

Subtitled "A Tale to Haunt You in Your Dreams," the original words for this 'musical drama' - based largely on Bran Stoker's novel - were written by Graham Bushnell and the original music was composed by John Dawkins. No, it was not as I had supposed, a 'musical comedy,' but in fact, a drama. Even dramatic.

Besides being a 'World Premiere' production, it is also the first time I have ever written a theatre review, or a review of an artistic performance of any kind. Are there rules for doing this? As this is also appearing in the world's first WorldWideWeb 'issue' of 'Metropole Paris' and I am the editor - much to the dismay of the union representative - who will cover this sort of stuff in the future - I guess I can do what I want if I have nerve enough.

While this attitude may leave some with doubt about my qualifications - don't worry, I have none - 'Dracula' itself, directed by its author, as played by its composer, and as performed by the 'west-of-Paris-and-fairly-well-known' International Players, is pretty good entertainment, even if it is not a comedy.
There were 23 speaking - or singing - roles, plus maybe a score of incidental Transylvanian peasants, who had remarkably clean costumes, for peasants. I was fairly close to the stage, and the costumes were really quite 'folklorique,' supposedly a mixture of 1860's London, standard Vampire rig and Transylvanian fashions - although they looked sort of Hungarian to me. The sets were simple, effective and on a few occasions, really cool. The lighting posed problems for my little digital camera, but lit the events onstage; between never bright- except for individual spots - to total blackout.
I suppose everybody knows the 'Dracula' story; I only know this: At night this Count Dracula goes around drinking people's necks and pops back into his coffin in his castle in Transylvania before daybreak to avoid turning into a toad, or something. The original 1897 'Gothic style' version probably had a little more detail - as this musical version does. There are few major changes from the original novel: Mr Renfield becomes Mrs Renfield, and is very effectively played - sung -"Perhaps today, perhaps tomorrow..." - by Kate McCarthy, from a perch in a birdcage in Dr Seward's loony bin.

Early on, after Jonathan the lawyer has turned up in downtown Transylvania, the villagers sing at one point, "He'll feed upon your body, and steal your very soul." This was good and I wrote it down in the dark; and it shows the limitations of reviewing a live performance. On the page, written squiggly, the line looks flat, even banal, but in context with the scenery, the cast, the staging, the lights, and what has come before, the line, as sung, from the song, "A Whisper At Your Window," sticks in the memory - as it was performed.

Equally striking were the 'Bride Maidens' doing "One Kiss," trying to get their long finger-nails on Jonathan, or wrap him up in their floridly sweeping cloaks, with the lyrics,
"One kiss, that is the favour that we wish.
One kiss, we'll be contented with no less than this.
One kiss, and you'll surrender to your senses.
Abandon your defenses!
How can you resist?"

Jonathan almost falls for it and replies, "No defenses, no resistance, so intense is their insistence. No refusing, their abusing."

But Count Dracula turns up, and even though Jonathan is poking about where he's not supposed to, he sends the 'Maidens' packing by offering them some lesser booty.

The locales slip deftly from Transylvania to Dr Seward's bug house to the Westenra's drawing room, to the Whitby cliffs, to various bedrooms belonging to ladies with throats of interest to Dracula, to Hamstead Heath, and finally back to Transylvania, where a crucifix is flashed, the sun rises, and Dracula gets a stick pounded into him.

This ending is evidently to the satisfaction of the peasants and villagers of Transylvania, as they are joined by the rest of the cast - the ones still left alive - to sing:
"Perhaps today, perhaps tomorrow,
With the rising of the sun,
We will find the path to follow,
When the world is one."
The curtain falls to the two-tier stage, the audience applauds, and everybody departs to return to a very dark, very cold night, snowing, in Le Pecq.

From the point of view of someone who has never seen an entire theatre performance before - having had to skip two third acts on account of the claustrophobia of being in one seat that was neither in an aircraft nor a bar, for more than two hours at a stretch, I must say that I enjoyed 'Dracula.'

It may sound like 'faint praise' putting it like that - but the performers were good. The original score, by John Dawkins, added greatly to the overall effect, and it wouldn't be a great surprise to hear it in other venues.

I should write out a list of the entire cast, because the premiere showing is lasting only a few performances - so if you don't see it right away, you will see it with an entirely different cast, possibly under different direction - and it won't ever by the same as it was tonight in a small theatre in an obscure western suburb of Paris, named Le Pecq.

If 'Dracula,' the musical is ever playing at a theatre near you, and you feel like having an entertaining evening, I urge you to buy some tickets and take some friends to see it.

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