'Vampires' bites, and that's no compliment


By Elysa Gardner, USA TODAY

NEW YORK — "On a cold winter night," the wily vampire asks the fair young maiden, "would you offer your throat to the wolf with the red roses?"

His pickup line, delivered in the first scene of the spectacularly idiotic new Broadway musical Dance of the Vampires, paraphrases part of a song intro on Meat Loaf's 1977 album Bat Out of Hell. Dance's composer/lyricist and co-librettist, Jim Steinman, wrote the songs on that kitsch-rock opus, and I suppose he's entitled to a little self-referential fun.

There is little else worth defending, though, in Dance, which opened Monday at the Minskoff Theatre. Clocking in at over 2½ hours with a mercilessly brief intermission, Steinman's latest effort offers none of the inspired cheesiness that made Bat one of pop's great guilty pleasures. This Dance will appeal only to the most die-hard lovers of inadvertent camp — provided they bring plenty of Excedrin and don't eat too much beforehand.

Dance is based on the 1967 Roman Polanski flick The Fearless Vampire Killers. Following the lascivious Count von Krolock's efforts to conquer and destroy the virginal Sarah, it also nods to numerous bombastic rock operas and overproduced '80s rock videos. (Two dance sequences featuring von Krolock's creepy cronies play like Michael Jackson's Thriller as reconceived by a hormone-crazed 12-year-old boy.)

The most obvious reference, though, is Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical adaptation of Phantom of the Opera, another hyper-theatrical account of a seductive mon-stuh obsessed with a sweet young thing. Dance even stars original Phantom leading man Michael Crawford, who at 60 looks disturbingly like a cross between an aging David Hasselhoff and Donald Trump, and likely couldn't sing his way past either of them.

To his credit, Steinman seems to take himself less seriously than Sir Lloyd Webber has ever been known to. The most confusing aspect of Dance, in fact, is that Steinman and co-authors Michael Kunze (who wrote the book and lyrics for a previous German incarnation) and David Ives can't seem to make up their minds whether they want to offer audiences an epic love story or a bawdy satire.

They succeed at neither. The count's drippy romantic scenes with Sarah — one of which showcases a new version of the Steinman-penned Bonnie Tyler hit Total Eclipse of the Heart that's even more bloated and insipid than the original — are no more convincing or less goofy than the script's lame-brained attempts at comic relief. One feels especially for accomplished character actor Rene Auberjonois, who as von Krolock's nemesis gets to unveil such doozies as, "The moment this girl is by herself, he'll be on her like a metaphor."

Mandy Gonzalez's Sarah also deserves sympathy for having to feign sexual fascination with the unctuous, barely pre-geriatric Crawford — though not for her shrill, pitch-shy singing. And Max von Essen and Mark Price suffer gamely as Sarah's earnest young suitor and the count's bug-eyed patsy.

Condolences also to David Gallo, Ann Hould-Ward and Ken Billington, who clearly wasted a sizable budget and no dearth of imagination on flashy sets, costumes and lighting.

Glitz aficionados might even want to check out Dance purely for the scenery and special effects. But I warn all others: Be afraid. Be very afraid.




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