Review: Dance of the Vampires, final
Reviews from the final weekends, January 18-25
I thought the musical was good for what it was, a spoof. It wasn’t pretending to be Phantom or Les Mis (I haven’t seen these shows, but know their reputations). The set was great, all these large pieces moving about. I could have done without some of the more explicit sex jokes, but hey, that’s what vampires represent, lust and sex.
This is the first time I’ve seen René live on stage (as opposed to live at a con). I was amazed at how fluid and graceful his movements were. I must admit Odo did cross my mind once or twice, René was so smooth in his motions.
At one point, the actors freeze as one of the other singers continues with the song. René didn’t move or waver a bit. Although I was in the very last seat of the the very last row of the orchestra section (it was actually just a chair, placed in the area where the wheelchair section would be), I did have a pair of binoculars, so I got a real good look at the cast. As an aside, I did find the placement of the mics to be distracting. Most of the time the mic heads were placed in the middle of the actor’s forehead. Now, granted, most folks wouldn’t be able to see the mics, but can’t they find a better place to put them? I guess because there are costume changes, but not wig changes, that it’s the best place for the mics. And in the middle of the forehead you can get the stereo sound. But it looked like everyone had these big pimples on their forehead.
René’s big number was called “Logic”. For most of the song, he sings really fast, like a Gilbert and Sullivan song — I loved that.
I also enjoyed René’s acting. He seemed perfectly in tune with his character, as silly as it was. Although you have to act big for the stage, to reach that last row, René didn’t seem “big”, he seemed natural.
I didn’t think the show had any hum-able tunes. Or memorable lyrics.
The other thing that I thought didn’t work was Michael Crawford’s big duet with Mandy Gonzalez. Even though it was the one recognizable song in the production, “Total Eclipse of the Heart”, I felt that the voices of Crawford and Gonzalez didn’t really mesh. But Mandy and Max Von Essen, who played René’s “factotum” Alfred, sounded really good together.
Here’s a funny bit. In the show I attended (January 18 matinee), there was an announcement made after intermission that there was a change in the actor who played the Professor’s assistant Alfred. I believe the new actor was Jason Wooten. Anyway, after intermission Professor Abronsius (René) and Alfred are on their way to the vampire castle. The curtains are drawn, the stage is barely lit, and Alfred is walking across the stage in front of the drawn curtains. René pops his head out of the curtains and calls to Alfred. When René catches up to him, he peers at him at the dim light and says “Alfred, is that you? You look different in this light.” That brought a big laugh from the audience.
I had wanted to see the show at least twice, once in the early part of its run and then later, toward the end, to see what changes were made. Too bad I won’t get a chance to do that. And, darn it, the details of the show are already fading from my memory.
In reading some of the reviews for the show, I’m glad that even though most of the critics had no good word for the production, no one has said that René was anything but excellent. I like these lines from a Pittsburgh Tribune review, “The length and quantity of the serious stretches from then on will have half the audience crying ‘Uncle!’ Or better still, Professor Abronsius! En-Camp here at once and don’t leave the stage again.’ ”
Vampires and René in New York, Oh My
by Charles Kortsep
I planned to see Dance of the Vampires soon after it was first announced. A musical about vampires (a literary favorite) with René Auberjonois was made to order. My planning took on a more urgent trait when I heard about bad reviews and empty seats. Still, it was going to be late January, due to work and other commitments, before I could attend. When my sci-fi fan club, The USS Konkordium, learned of the trip, others asked to come along. A group of seven — Peg, Kate, Marcie, Pete, Charles, Roberta, and Donna — decided to attend the matinee on January 25, 2003. Unfortunately, this was also the day the musical closed.
At the theatre, we found the staff to be dressed for the occasion. All the ushers were wearing dark clothing with high-collar capes. One attendee wore red contacts, fangs and was holding a bat, which he manipulated with his hands to cause it to move as if alive. Even the theatre sponsor, Mercedes-Benz, got into the act. Posters located throughout the theatre touted its cars as being “Safer than garlic”, “Fit for a count”, and having “a retractable hardtop perfect for creatures of the night”. The stage curtain was a pile of skulls and bones, strikingly beautiful although somewhat macabre. Then the music started, spotlights swept the audience, the bones lifted as did several light bars and the performance began.
René agreed to meet us after the performance, although he was pressed for time. Following instructions supplied ahead of time, we proceeded through the stage door into a small and surprisingly crowded room. Greg the doorman proceeded to sort through the crowd; a group taking a tour was told to wait outside, a messenger and others with theater business used the elevator, which left us and another small group also waiting for René. When René appeared, he greeted us and engaged in small talk. He also posed for a picture when he learned where the camera was located. Finally, he asked if we had anything for him to sign (was there any doubt?). In wordless agreement, everyone handed him just the Playbill, although several of us had brought additional items. Our business concluded, René greeted the other group as we left to join the crowd outside. Our wait paid off as Asa Somers, who played Herbert, appeared and signed autographs.
We went to dinner at a nearby restaurant and discussed the musical. Everyone enjoyed the show but agreed it had problems. Mainly, it seemed to lack an identity, as if the authors or director couldn’t make up their minds whether it was a drama or comedy. When Michael Crawford was on stage as Count von Krolock, the mood was serious, although he had a few comic lines and popped up playfully from the orchestra pit during the finale. He played the count as a tortured soul looking for love, reminiscent of his Phantom of the Opera character. When Crawford was off the stage, the mood was comedic, even campy. René showed his versatility by performing well at all times. The musical lacked a signature song. Its main theme, sung to the tune of “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” was an established hit before the musical reached Broadway. Also, it suffered from overuse, being reprised too often, usually with different lyrics. However, the reason it failed could simply be a matter of bad timing. It tried to build an audience at a time when the whole Broadway industry is in a slump. It was noted that other shows with similar or even worse problems were successful in the past.
Undecided on what to do after dinner, we walked aimlessly out of the restaurant and drifted back to the theatre. Two men met us there and offered to sell us tickets to Dance of the Vampires. We told them we just saw it and were not interested in their offer. One, apparently deciding that something was better than nothing, kept lowering his price. When he reached $10.00 each, Kate took out her wallet and handed him $60.00.
Consequently, we entered the theatre for the second time that day. It should be noted that at both performances we obeyed one of the laws of show seating. In the afternoon, having seats near the aisle, we arrived well before curtain time. Therefore, we had to endure people crawling over us to reach their seats. In the evening, our seats were in the middle. As a result, we arrived late and had to crawl over eleven people to reach our seats.
It was interesting and enjoyable to see two live performances back to back. Since you didn’t have to watch the featured performers, you could watch how the other actors on stage supported the action, study the sets, and more fully enjoy the lighting effects. You could pick out more easily the minor changes the actors made to their lines. It was also interesting to compare the audience reactions at each performance. The evening group seemed to be having a much better time than those from the afternoon. During the evening performance, the audience laughed sooner and more often and in general enjoyed the show more.
When the show was over, we once more headed for the stage door, this time joining the crowd gathering outside. Most of the cast didn’t sign, maybe because no one recognized them. When the crowd did recognize an actor, they raised a cheer, and six actors did sign, Crawford making a token pass down the line. Only the fans in front with Playbills received his autograph. Kate did manage to get a Crawford autograph, which unfortunately got smudged when someone bumped into her. René graciously signed for several minutes, and most people received his autograph. The trip home ended a very long yet satisfying day.
(Autograph session photo above by Robert DeSimone)
René’s Last Vampire Dance
by Robert Diamond
Great music, incredible sets, magnificent costumes, a fantastic mix of comedy and drama, the most wonderful high-energy cast that I’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing on stage and still it was not enough to make the show a success on Broadway. That’s how I can best sum up my opinion of Broadway’s short-lived, but audience-loved Dance of the Vampires. As webmaster of Michael Crawford’s official site (www.mcifa.com) and of a large fan site for Vampires, it was with a heavy heart that I went into the final weekend of the show. These past few months have been an amazing journey. I’ve made many new friends, and have had the pleasure of watching the show and its cast evolve through previews, and then the opening. Sadly, it closed all too soon. Another wonderful part of the Dance journey was being introduced to some extremely-talented new performers like Mandy Gonzalez and Max von Essen, as well as being exposed to some incredible seasoned performers like René Auberjonois. I have never been a fan of Star Trek, and have never watched Deep Space Nine. Before Vampires, my only real exposure to René was his guest appearances on Frasier. However, I can definitely say that whatever he’s doing next — and I sincerely hope he’s back on Broadway soon — I’ll be at the front of the line to buy a ticket.
René’s performance as the quirky Professor Abronsius was fantastic from day one. As the performances went on, he played the part more and more campily, resulting in louder and louder ovations from the audience when he took his bows. Those expecting him to go out with a bang were certainly not disappointed by his final performances.
At the last Saturday matinee, he sang a chunk of “Logic” sitting on Rebecca’s (Liz McCartney’s) lap, resulting in many laughs — some onstage as well as off! In the bedroom scene, when Boris (Mark Price) enters, and Abronsius greets him with a “Bo- bo- bo- bo- Boris” as the two attempt to figure one another out, they extended this sequence, resulting in loud laughter, and then a panicked expression from fellow performer Max von Essen (Alfred).
The largest laugh of the night, which stopped the show, came a little while later. When the frozen innkeeper Chagal’s (Ron Orbach) body is brought out onstage, the normal scene had the townsfolk gather round, while Abronsius pronounced “Alfred — look at that! Two holes through the neck, two in the arm, and two right through the apron. That beast must have been pretty peckish!” At the last performance, this was revised to “Alfred — look at that! Two holes through the neck, two in the arm, and one right through the apron.” As the cast leaned in, Abronsius lifted Chagal’s apron, and commented “My! that is one little prick!” which brought down the house.
René and Max continued their fun after “Death is Such an Odd Thing” when the two come on stage ready to pound a stake through the heart of the now-tainted innkeeper, Chagal. They entered the stage dancing and practicing their golf swings, all while emulating the hysterical movements of Magda’s gyrations. Sitting in the audience, you could tell that they were all having a blast up on stage with each other.
Sadly, a little while later, the show was over, and the performers came out to take their final bows, with René ‘two-stepping’ out onto the stage, a huge smile on his face for the last time. He joined hands with Michael and the rest of the cast for the loudest ovation that I’ve ever heard in a Broadway theater. It was “a’ too good!”