'Vampires' lacking bite, needs stake in the heart


Copyright 2002 Houston Chronicle
NEW YORK -- Dance of the Vampires, the tasteless travesty that lurched onto the stage of Broadway's Minskoff Theatre Monday evening, self-destructs like a vampire in the sunshine.
One fears the worst at the cutesy pre-show announcement: "Not one vampire was harmed in the making of this musical." Maybe not, but hapless theatergoers may be bored to death watching it.
With a hectic, uninspired score by rock songwriter Jim Steinman and a relentlessly stupid libretto by Steinman, Michael Kunze and David Ives, this is a case of spectacularly inept material dragging everyone involved down with it. One can only wonder why Michael Crawford chose it as the vehicle for his first bow on Broadway since 1988, when he originated the title role in Phantom of the Opera.
With obvious Phantom echoes, Crawford plays bloodsucking Count von Krolock, pursuing a luscious 18-year-old virgin named Sarah. Vampire exterminator Professor Abronsius and dimwitted assistant Alfred, who is smitten with Sarah, counterplot to save her.
That's all there is and it's treated as a sophomoric skit, in which labored lines and preposterous acts are presumed to be funny. Boy, does that wear thin fast.
Roman Polanski's overrated 1966 movie spoof The Fearless Vampire Killers was hardly a viable source for a musical. The stage adaptation -- previously presented in a German-language edition in Vienna -- is meant to be a just-for-laughs spoof of Bela Lugosi-style vampire yarns and gothic pop operas. Vampires is creaky on both counts. Dracula gags ("We could do with some new blood in the village") ran dry ages ago; Rocky Horror already ran the kinky ghouls cavorting to tacky rock shtick into the ground.
"God has left the building!" Crawford intones after entering in a coffin that rises through the floor. God must have seen the script. Vampires invariably goes for the cheap laugh (sponges shaped like genitalia) and can't even get that.
Steinman's score sets a new low for rock opera. He mocks pop-opera bombast with more bombast. Villagers scream and stomp a salute to Garlic, Garlic! Vampire entices victim in a ballad with the ungainly title A Good Nightmare Comes So Rarely and the wheezy punch line "I'll show you yours if you'll show me mine." Confession of a Vampire, Crawford's big solo, is ludicrous doggerel.
With mind-bogglers like Death Is Such an Odd Thing and (I've Been Looking for an) Original Sin and Read My Apocalypse, this show boasts the worst lyrics Broadway has heard in decades. One would have to go back to legendary bombs like Whoop Up and Kelly to unearth anything more ridiculous.
Director John Rando, who won a Tony for his deft work on last season's offbeat and genuinely clever Urinetown, here seems stymied by the labored material. He compensates by pulverizing the audience with sheer size and volume, to no avail.
Choreographer John Carrafa, who scored with his parodistic dances in Urinetown, turns out an aerobics drill of mechanical MTV moves.
The producers have thrown $10 million at this thing, with fleets of phantasmagorical Ann Hould Ward costumes and mountains of elaborate David Gallo settings -- a ruined church, a massive drawbridge, a floating wall of pop-top crypts. Massive overproduction only compounds the problem. The result? Vampires is big and heavy, and it has no class.
The surprise is how little impact Crawford makes at the center of all the fuss. His singing remains confident, but is so heavily amplified that he scarcely sounds human. What happened to the suave, romantic, tormented seducer of Phantom? Here, Crawford resembles no one so much as Wayne Newton -- though when the script unwisely has him quip, "Come up to my place," one notes the resemblance to Mae West in her later, stuffed-owl phase. One wonders if the matinee-idol status Crawford earned in Phantom can survive his disillusioning work here.
That fine actor Rene Auberjonois, a Tony winner as the fey villain of Alan Jay Lerner and Andre Previn's Coco, carries himself with customary authority but is wasted as Abronsius. Ingenue Mandy Gonzalez and juvenile Mark Von Essen are blandly pleasant.
The entire cast knocks itself silly struggling to put across this witless fiasco. About the only convincing moment comes when vampire and victim soupily croon, "Forever's gonna start tonight."
Dance of the Vampires does have a way of making a single evening feel like eternity.




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