Count on 'Dracula'
Photo by Dave Lepori
Take a Chauncey: Kevin Blackton and Marie Shell, Renee
Hewitt and Lisa Recker in the dance-hall of "Dracula."
Stage Company show mixes
melodrama and mayhem
By Anne Gelhaus
During the scene in Francis Coppola's Dracula in which the vampire Lucy returns to her coffin carrying a lifeless boy, my friend turned to me and said, "Look, she went for takeout." Stretch this joke out for about three hours, and you have Dracula: A Musical Nightmare. As produced by the San Jose Stage Company, the show pushes the limits of macabre humor and sometimes exceeds them.
Douglas Johnson, who wrote the book and lyrics, conceived Dracula as a homage to melodrama and other theatrical forms that have pretty much fallen by the wayside. The show is set in a decrepit 19th-century English music hall, where a traveling theatrical troupe is staging the story of the evil Transylvanian count.
The four actors who handle the music-hall portions all look pretty undead themselves, thanks to Richard Gaetano's wonderfully gruesome makeup. Marya Keeth modeled her costumes on Susan Tsu's original designs, and the result is a "Rocky Horror meets Cabaret" bawdiness.
Both the look and feel of the show become more sedate during its melodramatic moments. Whereas emcee Chauncey De Ville (Kevin Blackton) and his dance-hall girls, Faith (Renee Hewitt), Hope (Marie Shell) and Chastity (Lisa Recker), exude sensual evil, the actors playing out the actual Dracula story do all the silly posturing and recite the overly earnest dialogue. The show moves back and forth between these two genres, and sometimes the transitions are so abrupt that momentum is lost as the audience tries to figure out how one scene ties in to the next.
Many of the play's funniest moments are in the first act. As Mina and Lucy, respectively, Christianne Hauber and Anna Marie Gutierrez both reveal a gift for deadpan comedy. In their scene together, Hauber manages to keep a straight face while spouting an endless flow of expositive dialogue, and Gutierrez makes "Vanity," a song with trills and high notes galore, musically enjoyable as well as humorous.
The dance-hall girls also shine when called upon to perform a puppet show depicting Count Dracula's voyage from Transylvania to England. These scenes are the show's more successful attempts at melding two genres into one story. But this "kitchen sink" approach fails in the second act, when horror and pathos are added to the mix. The show could do without "Moonlight Waltz," a schmaltzy love duet sung by Lucy and Quincey Morris (Justin Bloomer), and although Blackton's scenes as Dracula are genuinely terrifying, they're inevitably and annoyingly followed by bits of low comedy. Portions of Dracula are quite tasty, but there's nothing here that you can really sink your teeth into.
Dracula: A Musical Nightmare plays Oct. 18-21 at 8pm and Oct. 22 at 2pm at The Stage, 490 S. First Street, San Jose. Tickets are $15-$22. (408/283-7142)
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