Scott Brown
September 03, 2004 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Perhaps you have heard, dear reader, of…the vampire? A foul but fascinating hybrid of man and demon, he prowls the night, seducing the young and beautiful with promises of everlasting life, even as he drinks the very blood from their ripely pulsating veins. Are you frightened? Aroused? Do you…tremble? No? Heard it all before, you say, and in, er, countless variations? Foolish mortal, your puns can’t save you now. Bram Stoker’s Dracula returns! Again! In song! At $101.25 a pop! Scared yet?

No? Then cower in bored bemusement, slave, as Tom Hewitt (”The Rocky Horror Show”) and Melissa Errico (”High Society”) give listless performances in the leads: immortal Eurotrash Dracula and beloved bad-girl-in-the-making Mina. Squint in the misty dark as nudity is furtively offered to the tourist hordes! Fidget in vain as knick-knack-paddy-whack lyrics (some contributed, ominously, by ”Dance of the Vampires”’ Don Black) are troweled over the remorseless, roiling Goth-pop of Frank Wildhorn!

Yes, Wildhorn, the Casio-like musical mind behind ”Jekyll & Hyde,” a hair-raising feat of Velveeta unto itself. But that show comforted audiences with (ha!) melody (and eventually David Hasselhoff). Expect no such mercy from ”Dracula, the Musical.” Not one memorable tune escapes the tomb of its own self-seriousness. Nor shall there be any escape for you, gentle reader. There is nowhere to hide. Not in the Belasco Theatre. It’s too…bloodcurdlingly…small!

That hasn’t stopped director Des McAnuff (Tony’d for ”Tommy”) and scenic designer Heidi Ettinger from stuffing it to the gills with set pieces that vaguely evoke the female anatomy and jut from every which-a-way like M.C. Escher’s very own yonic obstacle course. It’s the actors’ challenge to imbue this clutter with basic spatial logic — hard to do when the staging is so curiously (or is that…mind-bendingly?) pretzeled. Perhaps this gridlock explains why Dracula flies every chance he gets: Sideways, vertically, horizontally, during songs, during set changes — the show has more air traffic than O’Hare. And when the count isn’t flying? He’s dropping through trapdoors. This isn’t empty Vegas gimmickry, oh no. There’s a message here: Dracula hates to walk. Why should he? He’s Dracula! And Mina cannot resist his pure animal…blandness! He’s ineluctably alluring because…well, there’s that flying thing, right?

Bone-chillingly flat as ”Dracula” is, there are a few revelations: Vampirism, turns out, is transmitted by direct nipple-to-nipple contact. (Errico’s bodice isn’t ripped so much as haggled down a few sad centimeters.) We also learn that, in the 19th century, women had to wear silly mustaches to create the illusion of a cast of thousands. Or at least of tens.

Then there’s the most important lesson of all: Unscary vampire camp should know it’s unscary vampire camp. 2002’s ”Dance of the Vampires” understood this. Dracula does not. And both are too bloody limp to justify a fraction of the ticket price. No matter! As this show turns to ash, a new bad vampire musical shall rise in its place, mark my words. The cape, the blood, the necking…these will always prove irresistible to investors, even if there’s nothing new to say — and even less to sing — on the subject. And that, gentle reader, is truly terrifying. Mwa-ha-ha!

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