By MICHAEL KUCHWARA
NEW YORK (AP) - ``I don't fear the undead - I fear the unliving,'' whispers the virginal young woman to her terrified companions in the spooky woods of 19th-century Lower Belabartokovich.
Girls, forget the undead and the unliving. It's the uninspired you really need to fear.
Include in that group the folks who created ``Dance of the Vampires,'' which opened Monday at Broadway's Minskoff Theatre. They have unleashed an expensive, more than $10 million musical of mind-numbing silliness, a show that wastes its performers, most notably Michael Crawford, and dazes audiences who have to sit through its campy, yet mirthless meanderings.
The production is Crawford's first Broadway appearance since his phenomenal success in ``The Phantom of the Opera'' 14 years ago. ``Vampires'' appears to be an attempt to cash in on that popularity, and the show, consciously and unconsciously, echoes ``Phantom'' in all the wrong ways.
That Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, which also concerns itself with a freakish outsider, is stylistically coherent, with a melodic pop score and directed with a sure sense of extravagance by Harold Prince. Style, if not extravagance, is scarce at the Minskoff.
In ``Vampires,'' Crawford looks like a shellacked Wayne Newton (check out that ducktail), portraying a Vegas-style vampire named Count Krolock who probably could headline the lounge in one of the lesser Strip hotels. The performer affects a weird, octave-roaming Italian accent, sounding like a combination of Topo Gigio and Tony Soprano.
This creepy nobleman lusts after the beautiful Sarah (Mandy Gonzalez), and most of the plot concerns the efforts by a vampire-hunting professor (Rene Auberjonois) and his handsome yet not-too-bright assistant (Max von Essen) to prevent Krolock from turning Sarah into one of those bloodsucking creatures.
The musical attempts to be a spoof, just like ``The Fearless Vampire Killers,'' the 1967 Roman Polanski film on which it is based. And at least in the beginning, ``Dance of the Vampires'' doesn't take itself seriously.
The humor may be heavy-handed, but you can get some idea of what its trio of authors, David Ives, Jim Steinman and Michael Kunze, wanted to accomplish - goofy, off-the-wall fun. Alas, those high spirits evaporate before the first scene change.
Much of the problem lies in the undistinguished songs written by Steinman. They all seem to have been composed in the key of bombast. That's how director John Rando apparently has told his cast to perform them - loud and flat out.
It says something about the monotony of the music that one of Steinman's big pop hits, ``Total Eclipse of the Heart'' (with somewhat different lyrics), has been inserted into the show. The interpolation doesn't help and, in fact, calls attention to the mediocrity of the other numbers.
Crawford, who has one of those piercing, megawatt voices, has been left stranded by his composer. None of Krolock's big songs soar, even the one or two numbers designed to stop the show. Instead, they halt the plot.
Auberjonois, an old pro cast as the determined vampire hunter, lends a credibility to the proceedings. Unfortunately, most of the supporting cast mugs with a fierceness that grows increasingly unfunny.
Yet the choreography by John Carrafa produces unintentional giggles. For much of the time, the vampire chorus looks as if it is dancing choreographic outtakes from ``Cats.'' And what about that production number featuring frolicking peasants singing about the joys of ``Garlic''? It's right up there in sheer wrong-headedness with the pig-slaughtering dance in that legendary flop ``Carrie.''
When story and music fail, you can always look at designer David Gallo's gargantuan scenery. Graveyards. Those spooky woods. And a giant drawbridge that serves as the gateway to Krolock's castle is the show's answer to the chandelier in ``Phantom'' or the helicopter in ``Miss Saigon.'' It lowers to the floor of the Minskoff with an ominous thud.
At least Crawford makes a terrific first entrance. A black-leather coffin rises slowly from the beneath the stage floor and its creaking lid opens to reveal the star. But then, poor man, he has to do the rest of the show.