You can’t kill a great story, or its central character. There have been countless stage and film adaptations of Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula over the past century — everything from Bela Lugosi’s Dracula to Andy Warhol’s Dracula to Frank Langella’s Dracula. And let’s not forget Blacula! But, surprisingly, it is only now that the undead Transylvanian count is about to make his Broadway musical debut.
Truth to tell, Dracula, The Musical — the Frank Wildhorn-Don Black-Christopher Hampton adaptation of the classic tale — was supposed to come to New York soon after its world premiere production at the La Jolla Playhouse in the fall of 2001. So, why the delay? “The reviews weren’t really strong and it was pretty obvious that the show still needed a little bit of work,” says Tom Hewitt, who played Dracula in La Jolla and has returned to the role now that the musical is about to open at the Belasco. “There were several readings between the end of the run in La Jolla and the beginning of rehearsals now. I would say that 30-40% of the show is completely different. But the biggest change has been in the scenery; John Arnone designed the sets in La Jolla and Heidi Ettinger has done them now. The whole aesthetic, the look of the show is vastly different. I would say it’s more suggestive, less representational.
“I love to play mythical characters,” Hewitt enthuses. “Dracula is animated by something other than the life force and it interests me to explore how he moves. How do I manifest that energy? God bless our director, Des McAnuff; he’s constantly pulling me back and steering me more toward naturalistic, recognizable human behavior. I can’t get all kabuki with this. I can’t alienate the audience with bizarre behavior — as much as I would like to!”
Playing opposite Hewitt as Mina Murray is the luminous Melissa Errico, who says: “Our show is very true to the original Bram Stoker novel. Dracula is primarily a force of evil in the book but there is also the romantic element. To me, page 283 of that book is the sexiest page ever written. Read it! Start on page 283 and go to 286. I had a party and I pulled a bunch of girls over; I read that part of the book to them and they were like, ‘Holy cow, that’s hot!’ I mean, Jonathan Harker is in bed with Mina when Dracula comes to visit her. It’s this crazy female fantasy of being ravaged by some other man while your husband’s right there.”
According to everyone involved in Dracula, The Musical, the show’s tone is completely different from that of such post-modern musical comedies as Urinetown, Avenue Q, and — heaven forbid! — the 2002 Broadway mega-flop Dance of the Vampires. “This is not some kind of campy bodice-ripper,” Errico declares. “We’re not doing a musical comedy. We could have; a lot of very funny Dracula movies were made in the ’60s and ’70s. But we’re just not going there. I actually find what we’re doing a little post-modern insofar as it’s authentically emotional. I think there’s nothing hipper than Freud, and Dracula definitely dives into psychoanalysis — the layers, the aspects of a person’s nature that are unreconciled. What are the other sides of yourself and what would happen if you were to lose self-control? What if you allowed desire to rule your life? Dracula pops the cork on a lot of that stuff, as it were.
“We have a very superficial culture today,” Errico continues. “Everyone’s on reality TV, everything is up front. But is it really true? The mystery of the human character is something we’re exploring in our show; we’re embracing what’s unknown. I think that’s much more interesting than spewing out ‘reality.'” Asked to describe how the score of Dracula compares to previous Frank Wildhorn efforts, Errico says: “I’ve never seen a Frank Wildhorn show. I find that so curious! I can’t say how this score is similar to or different from the others but I can say that it’s very romantic. Frank really understands the way to combine romantic and modern sounds.”
Says Tom Hewitt, “I think people are going to get the tone of the show the minute they walk into the theater and see the pre-set for the opening number. It’s creepy and poetic. There are some intentionally humorous moments in the show but they mostly involve the human characters. It’s not, ‘Let’s laugh at the goofy vampire!’ The look of the show is a combination of a beautiful turn-of-the-century sensibility with modern, up-to-the-minute light and scenic effects that I’ve never seen before. There’s Tiffany glass all over the theater and covering the lights on the ceiling. It’s remarkable.”
The legend of the Belasco is that it’s a haunted house. Does Hewitt expect to run into any ghosts while playing Dracula? “Well,” he says, “I was hanging around up in the mezzanine the other day when the house lights were out and, I’ll tell you, it was spooky! The dark corners of that theater are full of drafts and weirdness. There’s definitely some creepitude going on in the place.”