Sunday, October 6, 2013

Midland's "Dracula: The Musical" a visual and vocal delight


review by janet i. martineau


Not to belabor the point, and we won’t, but the “Dracula: the Musical” script and score sucks.

Tony Serra in flight in "Dracula: The Musical"
However, HOWEVER, director Keely Stanley-Bohn and her cast and crew at the Midland Center for the Arts did not let that minor detail get in the way. Nope. They sunk their teeth into this puppy to present a visually and vocally stunning piece of theater.

Not only do Count Dracula and his victims soar with grace and ease up to the top of the 50-foot-high high set but so too do their voices soar in some of the most gorgeous singing community theater or any theater can deliver.

And the Laurelei Horton costumes....the layered look of the Kristen O'Connor set with its two sets of stairs and bug drawings on the walls...the nuances coming from conductor Jim Hohmeyer and his orchestra....the set changes done quickly, efficiently and mostly quietly...it all adds up to a feast.

We went to this show with a bad attitude...never have cared for Bram Stoker’s  Dracula novel and all of its movie incantations or for Wilder’s musical scores which feature just about every overwrought song sounding the same. 

And with this musical he and the book/lyrics writers Don Black and Christopher Hampton turn the story into Dracula the lovesick blood sucker willing to give up everything for, sigh, love....not to mention that if you are not familiar with the general Stoker story, things can get a bit confusing.

So best to just sit back and take in the visuals and vocals, and acting, in this production wisely done in the smaller little theater at the center. Makes it much more intimate and real.

There is a redness to the set. One of the actresses has actual beetle wings sewn in to her skirt. As we noted, look at the breathtaking height of the castle-like set and those oversize bugs and spiders drawn on its walls.

Tony Serra in the title role is phenomenal -- with just the right accent, menacing gestures all over the place, a deep reverberating singing voice, near perfect diction, as graceful as a ballet dancer when he flies (via Foy). As silly as the love story gets, Serr overcomes it and we see nothing of Serra in the role, just Dracula.

Adding strong support are Brooke Pieschke as Mina, who Dracula falls for in shades of “Phantom of the Opera” copycatting; Bill Anderson Jr. as Mina’s betrothed, and Calyn Liberati as Lucy, Mina’s ill-fated friend.

They too are rock-solid in their characters with singing voices to die for. Scene 10, which features all of them in a series of songs, stirs the musical soul -- especially when Anderson, Serra and Pieschke render an opera-like trio during it.

Fine work too by Adam Gardner as a bug-eating mental patient and Vincent Hanchon as a Texan who was one of Mina’s suitors. These two, at separate times, also deliver some stomach-turning bits of business. This production is, in places, graphic.

And sexual. With vampire women having their way with Anderson’s character on a bed as well as Dracula and Lucy spinning in space in a suggestive embrace.

Nice directing and response too when various cast members are bitten by Dracula and other vampires. Both the biters and the bitten are very realistic and smooth in how they move and/or fall victim

Just about everyone flies in this show, and they look remarkably at ease with it -- singing well as well as speaking their lines as the fly crew spins them, lowers them ever so gently and smoothly on each other, whisks them away or crosses their paths. At the end, Serra is flown in from above to the ground inside a casket! Makes “Peter Pan” look trite.

In more than 40 years of reviewing theater, we have always said the script is everything and without a solid one a production will more than likely fail.

Turns out Midland’s production of “Dracula: The Musical” is a wonderful exception to that assumption.

The show runs through Oct. 12.

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