"It starts out in a graveyard with a church behind it, very spooky," began Dance of the Vampires director John Rando, at a press preview for the upcoming Broadway musical by Jim Steinman, Sept. 18.
The production is set to begin previews at the Minskoff Theatre Oct. 14 prior to an official opening on Nov. 21.
Rando then interrupting himself with a cackle the cast seemed familiar with, before introducing the first of four musical numbers. He continued "Sarah [as played by newcomer Mandy Gonzalez] and her two friends [E. Alyssa Claar and Erin Leigh Peck] are out picking mushrooms when they come across this very forbidden territory, near the castle of the Count Von Krolock [Michael Crawford]. They encounter an enormous amazing group of vampires who happen to love rock 'n' roll and really dance to it well."
The actors then took their places for "God Has Left the Building," which will be the opening dance number for the musical, featuring the moves of Rando's Urinetown collaborator, choreographer John Carrafa. Rando asked the audience to imagine some of the cast flying about. The performers then enacted the Count's entrance — in which Crawford's character will appear upside-down — in "Invitation to the Ball." The final two numbers included the young leads' [Gonzalez and Max von Essen] duet "Braver Than We Are," and "Say A Prayer," a full cast number featuring star René Auberjonois as the professor.
Auberjonois told Playbill On-Line that his character is "more of a take-off on Peter Cushing rather than an absent-minded professor" as in the movie ("Fearless Vampire Killers") on which the musical is based. "That movie was a take-off on those old English Dracula films where Cushing played the Van Helsing character." He added about the show — which marks his first return to Broadway since City of Angels — "The astonishing thing, if we pull it off, about the show is that it walks a line between being a spoof and being [legitimate.] The story is very compelling and wonderfully terrifying and quite touching at the end."
Rando agrees that the show is not a spoof. "I wouldn't say spoof and I wouldn't really say campy. It has the elements of that, but I would feel it's more a thrill ride, a thrill show. I think it deals with the dark underbelly of life in a very fun and interesting way." The Tony Award-winning director feels no pressure to defend his crown. "No. I'm so honored by what happened and I'm just grateful that I can continue to work and that's all that I've been thinking about is working. There's no competition as far as I'm concerned."
Another stage vet and Tony winner making his return to the stage is Dance star Michael Crawford, who won a Tony for The Phantom of the Opera. The actor told Playbill On-Line, "I've never been attracted to horror films in any way and I've ended up doing Phantom and now I'm doing Dance of the Vampires. I've been allowed to turn this character into a more multi-faceted character which gives me the lead to have mood swings like crazy. I thought that, through the hundred of years that he's lived, he's learned so many tricks of how to seduce 'the girl' with words to get her to come to him willingly." This is a trait no doubt represented in the "Invitation to the Ball" number, when the Count, after convincing Sarah to accept the invite, says in his Transylvanian accent "Swear to me on your father's grave." She replies "But my father isn't dead yet." His retort: "Let's pretend."
Crawford said the major difference between the Phantom and the Count is "the humor. I didn't get many laughs in Phantom... Thank goodness!"
Composer Steinman described the feeling of finally seeing his musical come to Broadway after several years in development: "It's actually like being in the center of a hurricane. I don't even think of the larger concept that much, except that it feels great. It felt great in Vienna, in Stuttgart, in London when I did a musical there. It always turns out to be about people sitting in seats and how they react."
The entire songlist of the musical is new, with the exception of one of Steinman's most famous pop songs, "Total Eclipse of the Heart." Steinman explained to Playbill On-Line, "That was an accident almost. I'm surprised it stayed in. But, it was in [the] Vienna [production]. I had only a month and a half to write this whole show and we needed a big love duet. Half the show I had to talk [director Roman] Polanski into doing, and did it behind his back a lot. He's a great guy but he had a totally different vision. I don't think he wanted music at all," Steinman said with a laugh, "which is great for a musical."
"But with 'Total Eclipse of the Heart,' I was trying to come up with a love song and I remembered I actually wrote that to be a vampire love song. Its original title was 'Vampires in Love' because I was working on a musical of `Nosferatu,' the other great vampire story. If anyone listens to the lyrics, they're really like vampire lines. It's all about the darkness, the power of darkness and love's place in dark. And so I figured 'Who's ever going to know; it's Vienna!' And then it was just hard to take it out."
When asked if he thought the popularity of the song would hinder its impact in the musical, Steinman responded, "Well, the reaction, at least in Europe, was great. They recognized it, but then it seems — if it's done well — to take on a different personality. I like that combination, even though it's usually the opposite — a song becomes a hit afterward. I just feel any connection between pop music and show music is a positive thing."