Review: Dance of the Vampires (preview)

Review of a Preview * Friday, Nov. 8, 2002

by Marguerite Krause

First things first…this show is very entertaining, and René does a fantastic job in his role! Before I went to see it, I wondered how I’d be able to talk about it without spoiling anything for people who have not yet seen it, but that turns out to be easier than I thought, because during previews the show is still undergoing changes. Therefore, I won’t describe specific scenes or plot details, because they may not remain in exactly the form I saw when the show opens.

Mike, Carol, and Jane at the Minskoff

Mike, Carol, and Jane at the Minskoff

The Minskoff Theatre building faces Times Square (the lobby windows look down over the square) but the main entrance and stage door face each other across a short pedestrian passageway about a half-block east of the square. You enter a small lobby at street level, pass the ticket takers, and go up a couple of escalators, elevator, or wide set of stairs to the main lobby areas. The inside of the theatre is beautful and comfortable — plenty of leg room.

As for the show itself…basically, Dance of the Vampires is a humorous, idiosyncratic take on the classic vampire tale. There’s a beautiful young girl named Sarah (Mandy Gonzalez, gorgeous voice), who is about to turn 18. There’s an ancient, evil vampire, Count von Krolock (star Michael Crawford) who wants Sarah as his bride. And there is Professor Abronsius (René), dedicated to ridding the world of vampires, aided by his loyal factotum Alfred (Max von Essen, a fantastic young singer and actor), who falls deeply in love with Sarah. There are dangerous, sexy dancing vampires, and peasant villagers who do a hilarious song/dance number in praise of garlic. Whenever sunset approaches, the peasants run off, screaming in terror, to barricade themselves in their houses, but they refuse to say the word “vampire” or admit that there’s any such thing as the undead.

The show is funny. I can’t possibly do justice to the humor in a description. There is word play, visual gags, and physical humor, and generally a lot of poking fun at the whole “Dracula” mythos. Later, in the second act, things get more serious as Sarah falls deeper and deeper under Count von Krolock’s spell, Abronsius learns he’s not facing just one vampire, but a whole bunch of them, and Alfred becomes more desperate to save the woman he loves. One of the main things they still need to work on before the show is ready to open is to make this transition work smoothly — from the silly, light-hearted humor of the earlier parts of the story to the darker parts toward the end.

There’s definitely a level of bawdiness to the show — some “naughty” language, as René calls it — and of course the sexual innuendo of the whole vampire seduction of an innocent girl. But it’s by no means horrific or gory or violent.

The music is amazing. Michael Crawford has a rich, powerful voice, and the young people playing Sarah and Alfred are well able to keep up with him. Jim Steinman’s music includes not only the driving rock and roll you might expect, but some luscious, soaring ballads. René’s major musical number in Act I, “Logic”, is fast and funny — literally breathtaking, for him and for the audience!

The technical aspects of the show are absolutely spectacular. They seem to have gotten past the technical difficulties that delayed the beginning of previews — all the complex lighting and set changes moved along like clockwork, and the sound balance between the orchestra (fantastic musicians) and actors was just fine. All the costumes are basic 1880s eastern European. René wears narrow trousers with a coat over a long-sleeved white shirt and waistcoat, very handsome. He has grown a full beard and mustache, which he makes white with make-up, and wears a white wig which looks great, kind of longish and swept back, not unlike his normal hair, just fuller. The entire show is a feast for the ears and eyes.

The audience at the performance we saw really enjoyed themselves. People laughed in all the right places, and clapped and cheered for the wonderful musical numbers. They even gave René a warm welcome when he made his first entrance. Abronsius walks into the inn, with Alfred behind him, and sweeps off his hat, very much a “person of importance” arriving at this small village — and the audience broke into applause.

At the time of this preview, the show was still a work in progress. I mentioned the uneveness of tone (silly to serious), and they’re still making changes in the structure — tweaking lyrics, making songs longer or shorter, and adjusting dance numbers, including building a new set for one scene. They’re not yet happy with Michael Crawford’s look — his make-up and costume don’t “work” yet. (A big contrast to René, who looks perfect for his character.) Apparently they may delay their official opening night from Nov. 21 to Dec. 9. This also pushes back the date for when the New York critics will come to see the show. René says that this is difficult for the cast, and compared it to being a marathon runner, and when you reach mile 24, you’re told that you actually have another 7 miles to go! He said that the dancers, for instance, during the whole rehearsal and preview period, come in at noon every day (except matinee days) and work for five hours, then dance the evening performance as well…. a grueling schedule which won’t ease off until after the show officially opens.

Signing autographs

Signing autographs

After the show, barricades are set up in a semicircle around the stage door, and a big crowd forms, waiting for Michael Crawford to come out and autograph programs. If René comes out first, he usually just waves to the crowd and slips away, because he knows most of them are there to see Crawford. But if he comes out after Crawford and people are still waiting at the barricade, he signs autographs.

In summary, Dance of the Vampires is exciting, it’s funny, and the music is fantastic. René looks great and gave a wonderful performance. I’m going to be really curious to see if and how they work out the last rough spots in the show. As it stands, critics may not be very happy with it, but general audience members seem to have a great time.

Photos by Carol Reeg and Mike and Marguerite Krause