by Ken Mandelbaum
With all the talk of Dance of the Vampires, I felt compelled this weekend to revisit the original 1997 Vienna version, Tanz der Vampire, via the double-CD cast recording (still in print) and the illustrated souvenir program (with its English-language synopsis). I also had the help of a friend from Vienna who saw the show numerous times and filled me in on certain details. (He also taped several hours of TV coverage of the Vienna premiere, plus musical numbers subsequently performed on television.) Those who have seen the show at the Minskoff might be interested in a rundown on some of the changes the material has undergone between Vienna and Broadway.
In general, the Vienna show sticks very closely to the plot and tone of its source film, The Fearless Vampire Killers. This isn't surprising, as Roman Polanski directed both. Although there was dialogue in Vienna, the music never stopped, and the score was far more intricate. Extended musical scenes blending a number of themes have been reduced to simple, ineffective songs for Broadway.
Tanz followed the film's mix of humor (mostly visual) and scariness. But there were no lengthy dialogue scenes full of lame jokes and campy self-awareness, as in the Broadway version. Nor were there bats or a "Madame von Krolock," although sponges were present. Tanz combined rock opera with folk operetta, and all of it --even "Total Eclipse of the Heart"-- sounded better in German. The show was also at least thirty minutes longer in Vienna.
As in the film, Act One of Tanz der Vampire opens with Alfred and Professor Abronsius arriving at Chagal's inn. There's no opening scene with Sarah, Krolock, and a bunch of vampires in the woods, as on Broadway. Alfred's first song ("He, Ho Professor") in Vienna is not heard in New York.
Inside the inn (a multi-leveled structure with several rooms visible simultaneously), the assembled throng sings "Knoblauch" ("Garlic"). Chagal then sings a song that in New York is called "Don't Leave Daddy." "There's Never Been a Night Like This" is done by six of the principals, spread around various rooms of the inn.
Then comes Krolock's first appearance. In the shadows, he sings a solo (with offstage chorus), "God Is Dead"; it's the melody ("Original Sin") that Michael Crawford sings to Sarah in the opening scene on Broadway. Bringing in the tune of "Total Eclipse," it's a serious, ominous number, and Steve Barton, Vienna's Krolock, sounds impressive.
Outside the inn, there's "Everything's Bright," a trio (Magda, Chagal, Rebecca) not heard in New York. Koukol --Krolock's hunchbacked servant from the film-- lurches in. (For Broadway, Koukol has been transformed into the unthreatening, comical Boris.) Abronsius sings "Truth," called "Logic" when René Auberjonois does it. Then Sarah and Alfred have a duet, "You're Really Very Nice," not included in New York.
As in the film, Krolock visits Sarah in her bath, singing "Invitation to the Ball," featuring the music of "Original Sin" and "Never Be Enough."
Outside the inn, Sarah and Alfred sing "Freedom Is Out There," known as "Braver Than We Are" when Max von Essen and Mandy Gonzalez do it. The Red Boots Ballet, a sizable (and silly) number on Broadway, was in Vienna just a dancing Sarah with a quartet of identically-clad Krolock figures. (The Vienna choreography was by Dennis Callahan.)
Back in the inn, there's a musical scene featuring reprises of several songs and some music not in the New York version. Then comes "Death Is Such an Odd Thing," in Vienna a belty solo for Magda; on Broadway, it's shared by Magda (Leah Hocking) and Rebecca (Liz McCartney).
At the Minskoff, the final scene of Act One has Krolock welcoming Sarah to his castle. In Vienna, Sarah is already inside. Krolock welcomes Alfred and the Professor (as he does in the second act on Broadway), singing "Blessed Be the Man" (now "Come With Me," a shorter number for Crawford). Instead of the Broadway drawbridge, the scene takes place at the entrance to the castle. Barton sounds grandly operatic as he introduces his son, Herbert, and takes them all inside.
The second act opens with "Totale Finsternis" ("Total Eclipse") in the Great Hall of the castle, which looks like quite a set (by William Dudley), with a spiral staircase that outdoes Norma Desmond's, as well as a singing portrait gallery. Alfred's nightmare ("Carpe Noctem") follows. In the castle's crypt, Chagal and Magda emerge from a coffin, and share a duet combining the tunes of "Don't Leave Daddy" and "Death Is Such an Odd Thing." (In New York, there's a reprise of "Death" for Magda and Rebecca.)
In Vienna, Alfred located Sarah in her bath. (On Broadway, he finds her in her room.) They reprise "Freedom Is Out There," then Alfred does "For Sarah." On Broadway, "When Love Is Inside You" is the number for Herbert and Alfred, done in Herbert's room. In Vienna, it's first sung by Alfred in the library. Then the song continues in Herbert's mirrored bathroom. Alfred is saved from Herbert's clutches by the Professor.
On the battlements of the castle, the Professor and Alfred watch as the vampires emerge from their graves ("Eternity"), the set similar to the Broadway design. This is immediately followed by "The Insatiable Appetite," called "Confession of a Vampire" on Broadway. The seven-minute aria is better suited to Barton's voice than it is to Crawford's.
At the ball, Krolock welcomes the guests to the music of "Original Sin" and "Never Be Enough." Sarah, Alfred, and the Professor escape into the wilderness. As on Broadway, there's a reprise of "Braver Than We Are." The finale, "Dance of the Vampires," is performed without a set, as in early New York previews, before the subway and Times Square sets arrived.
There's no question that the Vienna Tanz was superior to the Broadway re-working. It had a consistency of tone lacking in the Broadway version, the humor and chills smoothly integrated as in the film. And in its original, non-stop version, the Jim Steinman-Michael Kunze score sounds a good deal better.
Would this original version, in a straight translation, have succeeded on Broadway? I doubt it. New York critics long ago turned against this sort of romantic pop opera, if they ever favored it to begin with. But at least the original wasn't the schizophrenic, unplayable mixture of camp and gothic seriousness now available at the Minskoff.
I also came across an item I ran in the spring of 2001, about the first New York reading of Dance of the Vampires, when John Caird was directing and co-authoring the book. The cast included Steve Barton, Bertilla Baker, Sarah Uriarte Berry, Ken Jennings, Tom Alan Robbins, Kate Shindle, Max von Essen, Jason Wooten, and William Youmans. Von Essen and Wooten are in the Broadway company. Youmans wound up playing Alcindoro in La Bohème, which opened on Broadway the night before Vampires.