Originally created 08/20/04

A bloodless 'Dracula' drains life out of the old vampire



NEW YORK -- Talk about draining blood from the undead.

"Dracula, The Musical" is an anemic, inert attempt to make the world's most famous vampire sing. And what takes place on stage at Broadway's Belasco Theatre is enough to send the poor guy flying back to Transylvania, bat wings flapping.

For all its attempts at purple passion (including brief glimpses of female nudity), spiffy special effects and bloody violence, what the production offers is sedate and sexless, an unconvincing melodrama laced with dreary songs that stop rather than jump-start the plot.

Director Des McAnuff has opted for the straightforward approach, meaning the show deliberately avoids campiness, a style which plagued Broadway's last big bloodsucking musical, "Dance of the Vampires," but at least made for a few laughs.

The story, adapted by Don Black and Christopher Hampton from the classic Bram Stoker novel, is reasonably coherent, if plodding. Our famous vampire (Tom Hewitt), seeking new victims, travels to England where he lusts after a virginal young woman (Melissa Errico) who finds herself strangely attracted to him.

Dracula first has his way with the woman's cousin (Kelli O'Hara) and she becomes a vampire, too. He is then pursued by a team of determined vampire killers, led by the intrepid Abraham Van Helsing, but only true love can capture - and doom - the man.

It's painful to watch such talented performers as Hewitt and Errico struggle with the thin material.

Hewitt, in particular, has a hard time of it, coming across as a lost soul whose emotions don't seem to go much beyond scowling. The actor gets quite a physical workout, though. This vampire flies into the night sky, climbs in and out of coffins, drops precipitously into a stage pit and shoots across the floor as if he were riding one of those motorized scooters.

He is assisted by three female vampires, a sort of unholy trio who also swoop through the air when they are not singing about joys of tasting blood.

The lovely Errico, her hair a mass of brown curls, portrays one of those tremulous late 19th century heroines, a porcelain beauty nearly undone by her erotic desires. The actress has a luscious voice as does O'Hara, but neither of these ladies can do much with the generic songs they are given.

That's because composer Frank Wildhorn's pop music lacks the theatricality needed to define the characters, propel the story and engage the audience. The composer, who wrote the music for such shows as "Jekyll & Hyde," "The Scarlet Pimpernel" and "The Civil War," writes melodies that seem to evaporate as soon as they are heard.

The lyrics by Black and Hampton are equally banal. They sound like dictation, statements of fact, depending on repetition rather than style or wit to get their points across.

The supporting cast gives dutiful performances. Only Don Stephenson, as Dracula's looney sidekick, and Stephen McKinley Henderson, as the fearless vampire hunter, throw themselves into their roles with the conviction necessary to pull off this kind of hokum.

The real star of the production, however, is designer Heidi Ettinger, whose swirling Victorian settings - from castles to crypts to carriages traveling through the gloomy night - are as artful as they are mobile. They give "Dracula" the lift that is resolutely missing from the rest of this misguided, earthbound musical.