Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Dracula"

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note: entire contents copyright 2002 by Larry Stark


Book & Lyrics by Richard Ouzanian
Music & Orchestrations by Marek Norman
Directed & Staged by Barry Ivan
Music Director Dale Rieling

Scenic Design by Dex Edwards
Lighting Design by John McLain
Sound Design by John A. Stone
Costume Design by Jay Woods
Wig Designer Gerard Kelly
Production Stage Manager Erik E. Hedblom

Dracula..................Ron Bohmer
Mina Murray..........Glory Crampton
Jonathan Harker..........James Moye
R. M. Renfield........Eddie Korbich
Jack Seward.............Robert Hunt
Abraham Van Helsing...Robert Jensen
Lucy Westenra.........Coleen Sexton
Demon Brides:
Courtney Mazza, Melissa Rouse, Lauren Wagner

Piano.......Dale Rieling
Violin...Zola Bologovsky
Violin.....Rohan Gregory
Viola.......Kate Vincent
Cello....Nicola Cariglia
Conductor...Dale Rieling

This new Canadian show calls itself "A Chamber Musical" though its pretension to be opera is most apparent. Like an opera, it's libretto (Book & Lyrics by Richard Ouzounian) is the boiled-down essence of an English novel. Like an opera, it has two or three melodies (Music by Marek Norman) repeated in several modes and several mouths. Like an opera, the big voices overshadow the done-to-death story. Unlike an opera, its exposition is acted rather than spoke-sung,its songs are sung in understandable English, and John A. Stone's amplification system makes even the quietest murmurs as clear as the full-throated arias. And the show has scenes of sheer spectacle --- something the North Shore Music Theatre does better than anyone.

To give it its due, the book makes a stab at giving the blood-hungry count some motivation for his second-act seduction of Mina Harker (Glory Crampton): not only does he seek revenge ("You have taken from me my only love, Harker, and so I will take yours!"), but in some unexplained way an intelligent English lady as an eternal wife and fellow vampire will bring peace to his dark, five-hundred-year-old soul. Apparently, the three lithe "Demon Brides" who show their amazing bodies in film-like body-stockings (Courtney Mazza, Melissa Rouse & Lauren Wagner) don't cut the mustard in this regard. After one interrupted scene of triple-seduction, they appear only as darkly sinuous Las Vegas show-girls.

Ron Bohmer's electric presence and huge, booming voice make Dracula into a compellingly mesmeric figure --- helped considerably by John McLain's broodingly effective lights and Jerard Kelly's wigs. He walks slowly and silently, as though but never actually on tiptoe, and projects a quite unbelievable power. He can, for instance, seduce a happily married woman with a single sentence ("I will give you everything you desire!") and kill a rebelling minion so quickly, with a single gesture, that he sinks into the earth leaving no trace. He is, of course, an equal-opportunity seducer, but Jonathan Harker (James Moye) wears a cross about his neck, giving Bohmer a chance to rear back in shocked fear, disgust, and frustration.

In comparison to this dark-clad presence, his three adversaries are written as stout-hearted light-weights. James Moye's Harker has the boyish face of a young lawyer, eventually weilding the inevitable death-stake and mallet with dogged resolve. Robert Jensen as the blood-expert Abraham Van Helsing fights the menace with crosses and holy-water. As Doctor Jack Seward, Robert Hunt is torn by the undead death of his fiancee Lucy as the first-act climax. Yet all three run about the big, round NSMT stage like determined but ineffectual flies, searching for Dracula in all the wrong places and ignoring the obvious.

The magically seduced women play out roles so identical they might as well have "Tweedle-" written about the backs of their collars. Coleen Sexton's Lucy Westenra is all in white, making the red lighting of her writhing under the wooden stake sharply graphic. But act II opens with Glory Crampton's Mina, in a gingham-blue gown, obviously ripe for the same throat-bitten ritual. Both are likealook beautiful, with lovely, strong voices that hold their own in three elaborate quartets. (Lovely music; incomprehensible lyrics.)

One surprise here is Eddie Korbich, playing the mad, fly-eating Renfield who leads his new master to Lucy in the first Act and, to his peril, tries to protect Mina in the second. His "The Spider And The Fly" song is the only one to break the melodic and rhythmic similarity of the show, and Korbich's fresh-faced sincerity almost steals the show.

It's the performances, particularly the singing, that make this American premiere of a Canadian hit worth seeing. That and the continually surprising special effects and stage magic. Scenes projected on six small screens about the edge of the circular stage set scenes and open the stage in a kind of hommage to the old silent attempt at this warhorse plot "Nosferatu". Set-pieces, props and characters appear and disappear smoothly here, and at one point a revolving section of the stage allows Dracula to glide, motionless, toward his lovely prey. The death of Dracula ain't bad either.

Oh, did I give away the plot? Or isn't it really true that Hollywood and Christopher Lee have made Bram Stoker's story into a creaking cliche to which Ouzounian and Norman bring little startlingly new. I must say that people who love good singing were much more satisfied with this "Chamber Musical" than I was, but the good performances of even such familiar material --- and Eddie Korbich's two walk-on scenes --- made it, for me, a pleasanter experence than "Jekyll & Hyde".

I wonder is there, even now, a team of creators hard at work on a show called "The Thing with Teeth" that will give Larry Talbot and his Wolf Man counterpart a lot of new songs to sing.
Why not?


"DRACULA" (1 - 20 October)
62 Dunham Road, BEVERLY, MA

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide