‘Dracula’: Strong performances hampered by weak show

Reviewed by George Basler

Dracula has taken his lumps over the years since being created as a Victorian novel by Bram Stoker in 1897. Old snaggleltooth has taken on holy water, crucifixes, garlic and stakes and still managed to keep on ticking.

But Dracula: The Musical just might permanently kill him.

The musical, which flopped on Broadway several years ago, is being staged this weekend at the Roberson Mansion, 30 Front St., Binghamton, by the Half Light Theatre. Unfortunately, a game effort by the 10-member cast and some fine singing by the four talented leads can’t disguise the fact that this is a weak, creaky show. The book by Don Black and Christopher Hampton is leaden and confusing. And the music by Frank Wildhorn, despite a few good songs along the way, becomes repetitious and strident before the final curtain.

Moreover, since the show is performed in the confined space of the Roberson ballroom, technical wizardry and visual elements that would have least been a distraction are impossible to stage.

The showhas a mixed history. Wildhorn, despite the distinction of being the first composer in 22 years to have three musicals on Broadway at the same time (Jekyll & Hyde, The Scarlet  Pimpernel and The Civil War) never been a critics’ favorite, and Dracula: The Musical was barbecued when it opened on Broadway in 2004, Subsequently, though, the show was revised, with six new songs added, and had successful stagings in Europe.

Maybe something gets lost crossing the Atlantic. The musical being staged at Roberson remains clunky and poorly written. A main problem is that the plot gaps are so numerous that, unless someone is familiar with Stoker’s novel, he or she is going to get lost trying to follow the action. And confusion is no way to maintain interest in a story or characters.

Let’s face it: Dracula is a little long in the tooth to be scary to modern audiences. The character has long since lost its shock value and been parodied to death. But Dracula: The Musical takes itself way too seriously and treats this nonsense with the tone of a Eugene O’Neil play. And any attempts at comedy fall flat.

That being said, some of the lyrics are howlingly funny, although not deliberately so. For example: “Don’t set me free, make sure my chains are always tight,” sung by one of the main characters.

One point in Half Light’s favor is that the production takes the correct step of emphasizing romance over horror, The Dracula character   as played by Brett Nichols, who also directed the show, actually seems to fall in love with Mina, the main female character. Nichols gives a good, solid, charismatic performance. Missy Harris, who plays Mina, returns the favor, even though old Drac has turned her best friend into a blood-sucking vampire.

And. to be fair, some of the songs are good ones. “Over Whitby Bay,”  “Loving You Keeps Me Alive, “Life After Life,” “Rosanne” and “Please Don’t Make Me Love You” stand out.

The four leads do solid jobs in their roles and have good singing voices. “Over Whitby Bay,” a duet between Harris and Colin Henehan, who plays Mina’s fiance and husband, is one of the show’s highlights, as is “Loving You Keeps Me Alive” sung by Harris, Nichols and Henehan. Caitlin McNichol has a cute patter song in which she weighs the attractions of three suitors, but the tone of the song is jarringly out of place with rest of the show. The show’s musical director was Matthew Vavalle.

Performances will be 7:30 p.m. today (Nov. 3) and 3 p.m. Sunday (Nov. 4). Tickets are $15 in advance and $18 at the door and can be purchased by calling Roberson at (607) 772-0660 or online at www.roberson.org.

One Response to “‘Dracula’: Strong performances hampered by weak show”

  1. greenboatdesign Says:

    Thank you for a well-written, thoughtful, and non-glowing review. Too many local arts “reviews” are non-critical raves. That’s a practice which diminishes not only the value of local writing on the arts but also the worth of truly high-quality productions and performances, obscuring them in a mire of universal hype. The occasional well-deserved, well-written pan — with high points — will not sink us, but make us better.

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