Theatre Review by Matthew Murray - December 9, 2002
Those who have been sharpening their teeth, hoping for a mammoth camp flop to arrive on Broadway will have to hang on a bit longer. As tortuous and misguided as Dance of the Vampires, the new musical at the Minskoff, is, this is unquestionably the show the creators wanted to make. What's onstage are ambitions fulfilled, not abandoned.
But the other winking musicals have something to ground them, be they a legendary comic, outrageous subject matter, or familiar rock tunes; Dance of the Vampires has no such element. Its book (by David Ives, Steinman, and Michael Kunze, responsible for the original German libretto) is a collection of lame gags (a talking bat, a laughably unidentifiable year, a sign identifying the secret vampire crypt, and so on), and Steinman's score is a highly uneven collection of group numbers, duets, and solos that deal with surface emotions and situations at best, reducing its sizable roster of characters to a gallery of waxworks. (For its connection to the plot, the interpolated "Total Eclipse of the Heart" could have been replaced by "The Star Spangled Banner.")
What Dance of the Vampires lacks in every other area, it does its best to camouflage with some of the most opulent set designs seen on Broadway in years. David Gallo has outdone even his previous exceptional work here. The least stunning of his concoctions - a spooky forest, a smoky inn, an attic bedchamber, a great gothic bedroom - are remarkably atmospheric, providing the sense of time and place nothing else in the show approximates. But his most impressive creations comprise a graveyard (complete with coffins) that floats in from the fly space, and a mammoth drawbridge emerging from complete demonic blackness. Spectacle, yes, but eminently theatrical.
Carrafa avoids this fate, the dull, lifeless dances on display here clearly of no one else's creation. With little entertainment value or visual style, the dances are plentiful, displaying the keen agility of a remarkably athletic group of dancers, though they have little more to perform than a series of seldom varying acrobatic routines. (I gave up trying to count the number of somersaults after the opening number.) Even when a dancer steps off the stage and begins twirling in air, it - like so much else in this show - reeks of desperation, an attempt to get a rise out of the audience through any means necessary.
Crawford is the most common means to this particular end, possessing the requisite star power to rise above the carnage around him, if in stature only. (Could anyone but a true star make anything out of a line like "God has left the building," his first utterance?) He brings about as much emotion from the lines and lyrics as can be expected, and he certainly looks like he's enjoying himself during each of his moments onstage. When the material drags him into camp, he has no choice but to follow, but since he's in on the joke, he never completely drowns.
Rene Auberjonois brings a certain dignity to Professor Abronsius, the vampire hunter come to take down Krolock, but he has less depth to play than most of the other actors, and can't make much of anything of the toothless Gilbert and Sullivan parody he sings. Ron Orbach, Liz McCartney, and Leah Hocking are wasted as three Lower Belabartokovich townspeople, and Asa Somers and Mark Price in thankless supporting "comic" roles have about one real scene each, and not one creative idea between them. (Somers's gay vampire character, Herbert, is funny for a few moments, however.)
Finally, special mention must be made of Richard Ryan, the show's sound designer, whose solution to the show's amplification needs is to the turn the volume up as high as it will go in every scene. This is painful throughout, but unfortunate only at first - when it becomes obvious Ryan's work is preventing you from correctly hearing lines like "Garlic, Garlic / The secret of staying young / Garlic, garlic / That's why we're so well hung," how can you not be grateful?
Still, Dance of the Vampires will probably be accelerating deafness in theatregoers for at least the immediate future. It's not bad enough to close immediately, and it's too bad not to run at least a while. Should you head to the Minskoff, you'll probably enjoy it most if you bring low expectations. And earplugs.