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Sinking Their Teeth Into Dracula

Michel Altieri, George Hearn, and Jake Silbermann discuss the new Off-Broadway production of the classic vampire story.

By New York City
Michel Altieri in Dracula
(© Carol Rosegg)
Michel Altieri in Dracula
(© Carol Rosegg)
Adapted from Bram Stoker's gothic vampire novel by Hamilton Deane and John L. Balderston, the play Dracula seems to always find favor with theatergoers. After its 1927 Broadway premiere with Bela Lugosi, there have been numerous revivals (including the celebrated 1977 production with Frank Langella in the title role).

Now, the show is being presented at Off-Broadway's Little Shubert Theatre, directed by Paul Alexander, where it is in previews before a January 5 opening. The cast features Italian acting and singing sensation Michel Altieri as the titular vampire, Tony Award winner George Hearn as vampire hunter Van Helsing, and former soap star Jake Silbermann as Jonathan Harker, along with Emily Bridges, Timothy Jerome, John Buffalo Mailer, and Kate Luckinbill.

The 32-year-old Altieri has had a fabled career in Italy, including playing Tom Collins in Rent -- having been handpicked for the role by producer Luciano Pavarotti from over 5,000 hopefuls -- and, most recently, the lead in Disney's Beauty and the Beast. He has also been the subject of a lot of attention from the Italian press. "All this makes it difficult to sometimes be taken serious as an actor, but I have strived to find balance and really concentrate on my work," says Altieri, who has been married to American actress and producer Jessica Polsky since 2006.

Although his goal was to work onstage in America, he never thought it would happen as quickly as it has. "Like everyone, I know the Dracula legend, so I was pleased when my agent submitted me, and the most unbelievable part is I wasn't asked to audition," he notes. "That was a big surprise, because all the actors I've met talk about how they dread auditions. I remember what it's like, so I was so relieved."

He explains that he and Alexander are still working throughout previews to define his character. "I didn't want to be a horror movie Dracula with fangs and dripping blood. Dracula in Bram Stoker's book and the ones in all the horror movies are such opposites. I see Dracula as a man with a soul, who's been cursed 500 years -- who's still looking for his one true love, his bride. I try to imagine what that would be like and it would be terrible!"

George Hearn, Jake Silbermann, and John Buffalo Mailerin Dracula
(© Carol Rosegg)
George Hearn, Jake Silbermann, and John Buffalo Mailer
in Dracula
(© Carol Rosegg)
For his part, Hearn was attracted to the project by a number of factors. "It's a challenge, but what makes it particularly enjoyable is this company, especially working with Timothy," he says. "We met in 1967 during our resident year at Princeton's McCarter Theater and never lost touch. But this is our first time working together since then." He's also enjoying sharing the stage with Altieri. "He's a beautiful, dear man who just oozes charm," he notes. "A star could be born -- and he doesn't have to worry about developing an accent."

Hearn adds that Alexander and the cast have been working hard to really mine the depths of the play. "Aside from the vampire and blood aspects, what makes Dracula stand up today are several gripping undercurrents about domination and seduction," he says. "Times have changed. Can you imagine the shock of the original production? Now, anything goes, but the piece is still relevant and a great piece of theater. We have something to be proud of."

While Silbermann gained national fame for his role as Noah Mayer on CBS' recently-cancelled As the World Turns -- as part of daytime's first gay supercouple (alongside Van Hansis as Luke Snyder) -- he was surprised to be given the opportunity to read for the role of Harker, the young man determined to stop Dracula.

"My only stage work was at Syracuse University," he recalls. When I read for my audition, my accent was terrible, but Paul said I came through, and I'm here. The rehearsal process was a nice change from daytime, because Paul allowed us to try different things. If they didn't work, you did it again another way. His vision is refreshing."

At first, the actor was nervous about being part of the production, but he feels totally at home now. "I'm surrounded by George and Timothy, who are so at ease at what they do, and Michel, who is quite the celebrated young Italian actor. They're three of the sweetest people I've known. I've grown to really admire Michel, because he brings such energy to everything, even saying good morning. In every stage production, Dracula is different, and with Michel, you have a dashing, charming count."

Indeed, like his co-stars, Silbermann doesn't think of the production as a mere revival. "I see it as a rethinking. There's so much symbolism from the horror and erotic aspects that it's relevant today. The wonderful thing about vampires is that they're an invention of the mind. There're even good vampires! Why not? There's no limit to what a creative director can do with this play," he says. "And with the popularity of the Anne Rice books, and Twilight, True Blood, and The Vampire Diaries, I think there really couldn't be a better time to revive Dracula."

Indeed, Altieri has been more than pleased by the reaction the show has gotten so far. "Audiences have been positive beyond expectations," he says. "Some even give me gifts! They do this in New York? I like that!"


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