In-House Review

     
 

written by P. K. Pichler

Overview

As most of you know, Dance of the Vampires is a show loosely based on Roman Polanskis Vampire spoof "The Fearless Vampire Killers (Excuse me, but your teeth are in my neck" or "Dance of the Vampires" as the European version was called.
The show already enjoyed a successful run in Austria, where it premiered in 1997 and later-on in Stuttgart (supposed to close on August 31st, 2003). Both productions were directed there by Roman Polanski, featuring music by Jim Steinman and lyrics/book by Michael Kunze. After numerous difficulties of bringing the show to the Great White Way it now opens in a completely revamped state on Dec. 9th, 2002.

I saw Dance of the Vampires three times when I was in New York from Nov 15th to 23rd, so keep in mind that this is a review of the previews I saw there.
The show wasn't frozen at that time, which means that I was able to see some of the changes that still took place, most notably the new Invitation scene and a rather lot of tweakings in the dialogues.

Those of you who have seen the original production of Tanz in Vienna or the follow-up in Stuttgart should go to this one with an open mind and think of Dance as a new show since it has only a few songs and the basic storyline in common with Tanz.
The changes from the original incarnation shouldn't come as a surprise considering that it was an entirely new creative team at work that tried very hard to make the show (and the roles) their own.

I tried very hard not to compare those two shows for exactly those reasons. In the end I can't say that I was overly successful there. And since I've recently heard the Austrian Cast Recording again I won't try not to compare it for this article.

Now on with the review. And be warned, it contains spoilers.

Songs & Lyrics

The songs and lyrics by Jim Steinman are of course first rate. The Steinman fans of course know all the songs and know their origin. All in all Dance is a good example of recycling well done.

What will never cease to irritate me though is that "recognition laughter" during the Total Eclipse part in Original Sin and at the beginning of "Vampires in Love".
Total Eclipse of the Heart was a highly successful song, but why do have people to laugh when they recognise it in the show? I'm certain that the audience in Europe also recognised the song, but they never reacted like that. Maybe it's due to a different mindset.

The only negative bit here is that most of the songs are shorter than their European equivalent due to the excessive dialogues. Also they should have stuck with the lyrics of the demo version of Dance of the Vampires - Finale Act 2 instead of putting in a lot of the lyrics of "Tonight is what it means to be young".

The two new songs (available as demo recordings on the offical page) are wonderful additions to the score, one gorgeous, innocent ballad and a heavy metal instrumental piece.

Dialogues & Book

Yes, I'm sorry to say that there are a lot of dialogues in this show (it's about 60 % songs, 40 % spoken lines).
Tanz used to be sung through while Dance became a book-musical. I still fail to see the reason for that (other than to get a few easy jokes in, no matter how appropriate).
As I stated above, a lot of songs and reprises fell victim to that.
The dialogues range from good and witty to cringeworthy. The "Cold Winter Night" speech is a nice nod to the first huge success of Jim while other lines like "Should I takk you now or should I takk you later??" is one of the lowest points along with the various sponge jokes and the silly muppet bat that "sings" (thankfully only two lines).

The biggest problem with the book is that there's no decision of whether Krolock should be a serious character or a comical one. In Act 1 he's mostly trying to be comical while in the second Act he becomes more serious - with the exception of the penis-shaped sponge. Also the "Should I takk you now or should I takk you later??" lines right in front of "Confessions of a Vampire" lessen the song. It's supposed to be a song about reflection, memory and his desire to be different, but with lines like that right before the song's hardly believable.

It's also amazing that ALL the comical moments of the European version were cut. Completely. No frozen professor, no jewish vampire, no what's that bump here... Instead we get an Italian vampire, a cursing bat, girls on mushrooms (if I remember correctly the season for picking mushrooms is summer and NOT around Halloween) etc.

In defense of the book I must say that the ending is not illogical. Sarah gets bitten by Krolock, Abronsius lets the sun in (the eclipse of the moon was three minutes before the dawn) and Krolock dies. Abronsius, Alfred and Sarah flee back to the village. Sarah then becomes a vampire and fulfills the prophecy. The light can no longer hurt her, so the day is no real problem there anymore. As for Krolocks death, apparently she didn't turn to a vampire right after the bite, so the light still hurt him. As for him coming back for the finale, as we know from the various Dracula movies a simple drop of blood on the ashes is enough to get the critter back.

Costumes & Scenery

When I saw it the costumes were not yet finalised so they could have improved by now.
Most of the characters have appropriate costumes, the Professor, Alfred, Sarah and the villagers come particularly to mind. Krolock however doesn't. All too often it looked like the designer never saw a traditional vampire movie. Where's the tuxedo? Where's the huge cape? That hankerchief Krolock wears some of the time hardly counts. And certainly not that weird torn rag he wore in his first scene.
Judging from that picture on Playbill.com the issue with the cape was improved by now. I should be thankful however that I didn't see the first previews where Krolock looked like the spawn of Liberace and Elvis instead of a Prince of Darkness.
The dream ballet sequence in Act 1 isn't exactly showing the best costumes either. The vampires looked like straight off a Halloween party (somehow fitting for when the show takes place). It could have been a lot gothier.
Far better in terms of costumes fares Eternity. Now those were really fitting. Gothic, dusty (the vampires did crawl out of their coffins after all) and somewhat torn.

As for the scenery, most of the sets were gorgeous in their own right. The designers clearly didn't borrow from the European production (as is the case with most of the choreography, the costumes and everything else).

Highlights here were the massive drawbridge at the end of Act 1, the forest, the graveyard in Act 2 and the mirrors of the dream sequence in Braver than we are. There's also a lovely nod to the composer on the drawback of the Finale Act 2 (a gorgeous picture of the young Jim Steinman, with a couple of drops of blood).
While the staircase with the dripply candles was adequate it doesn't hold against the towering staircase that was used in Vienna.
Another highlight could be the rising coffin at the end of God has left the Building, it's a wonderfully dramatic entrance for Krolock if it weren't for that silly steam and noise a few seconds after he leaves it.

The absolute worst sceneries were used close together: The dark grey curtain that was supposed to represent a cellar wall in the castle and the library which was a simple backdrop with stylised bookcases drawn onto it.

Both could have been done better, in the first case a better drawn backdrop with stylised grey stone masonry and some moss would suffice, while the library should have been an actual set. And a huge on at that. But since that song (Books, Books) was cut to almost non-existance I guess they decided for a cheap backdrop.

Cast

Let's start with the one whose name is almost as big as the logo itself: Michael Crawford, the original Phantom of the Opera.

In all honesty I must say that I kept my expectations low, especially after reading all the previews and interviews on Playbill, Talking Broadway and Broadway.com.

Crawfords version of *Giovanni* von Krolock (now who came up with this ridiculous idea?) apparently cannot decide on what he should be: A spoof á la Leslie Nielson in "Dead and Loving it" or a sexy and messmerising Dracula like eg Frank Langella.

Add to this that since according to his wishes of Krolock being an Italian vampire, he not only speaks with the accent, but frequently tries to sing with it. The outcome can only be described as a weird mixture of accents, namely British, something Italian sounding and a little bit of French thrown in for good measure ("A total eclipse of ze 'art" anyone? And no I'm not joking, he frequently swallowed the "h"). That much to the "Vhy am I ze only one wiz an accent" in the demo.
IF, and that's a big if, he would decide to bring in his heart and his soul instead of going for the laughs, he could truly shine in this show. Also that accent must go, at least during the singing.

Acting doesn't seem to be his strongest suit either anymore. In "Confessions of a Vampire" for example he just stands on the stage, the graveyard in the back and he looks so lost as if he wouldn't know what to do next. He doesn't show remorse, pain or any other emotion during the whole of that song.

All in all, I can't understand why Sarah would run off with him, he's neither sexy nor sensual nor well-dressed or impressive.
I have to grant him though that he does show his greatness in a few scenes, "Invitation to the Ball" (after the bat sings "A good Nightmare comes so rarely") and "Come with me".

Let's move on to Professor Abronsius, played by Rene Aberjonois. Rene does a wonderful job in this role, his first song "Logic" is rather demanding and he blazes through it like there's no tomorrow. All in all I must say that it's sad that his singing roles were cut down to "Logic" and a few lines in "Books, Books".

Max von Essen, who plays the role of Alfred, could become a new rising star on Broadway, his big solo, "For Sarah" shows off his voice wonderfully. He further shines in "Braver than we are" with Mandy Gonzales, "When Love is inside you" - a hilarious duet with Asa Somers and "Never been a Night like this".

Since the role of Sarah was hugely expanded from the European version, a good singer was a must here and Mandy Gonzales was a great discovery for that. Her voice carries of the innocent "Angels Arise" with a great soprano and later on she belts out songs like "Braver than we are" and "Total Eclipse" in the style of Celine Dion.

The rest of the cast also did a fabulous job and all too often it's just too bad that so many songs were cut and shortened, otherwise Leah Hocking (Magda), Liz McCartney (Rebecca) and Ron Orbach (Chagal), Asa Somers (Herbert) would have a much greater role to play, and especially would have to sing much more.

In conclusion I must confess that I did enjoy the show despite all it's shortcomings. Mind you, most of the shortcomings are only apparent if you saw the original incarnation.

If they would iron out some of the problems with the book, decide whether this should be a gothic story (as it should be and used to be, otherwise they'd have to change most of the songs) or a comedy (as someone certain wants it to be) and do a little tweaking with costumes and scenery here and there the rough diamond that Dance of the Vampires currently is, could truly shine.

 

 

 

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