Children of the Night
Also see Sharon's review of Daddy Long Legs
First, you need to know what Children of the Night is not. Because, from the title, the fact that it opens in October, and the fact that Bram Stoker is a major character, you might think there’s something vampire-y about it. That would be wrong. This is not a vampire story; it's a theatre story. And a musical at that.
Children of the Night, first and foremost, is the story of a theatre manager (Stoker), who happened to write a play (Dracula) and wants his friend and company lead (Sir Henry Irving) to play the leading role in the upcoming staged reading. As the leading actor believes the play is horrible (Stoker's play preceeded his novel's successful release), he refuses the role. This raises all sorts of conflicts - Stoker and Irving have been friends for 20 years; is Irving's criticism of Stoker's play something their friendship can survive? Does Irving owe it to Stoker to support his artistic endeavors after Stoker has helped keep Irving's theatre afloat for years? Is Stoker's admiration of the actor more a case of hero-worship, and will the hero fall when he fails to live up to Stoker's expectations?
The idea is an interesting one. Indeed, the further idea that Stoker wrote the character of Dracula with Irving in mind - perhaps even that Irving was something of an emotional vampire to the people around him - is certainly worth investigation. The problem is that writer Scott Martin doesn't go deeply enough into it to support an entire musical. The result is a theatre show with an awful lot of filler, and a plot which ultimately falls flat. This isn't to say that there isn't talent and potential here. There is; it just needs more focus.
Take the title song, in which Irving describes actors as unearthly creatures who touch immortality. It's a lovely sentiment (and the "and what music they make" line is a delightful riff on the classic Dracula line). It doesn't really belong in the same play as a second-act song in which the company rattles off a list of theatre superstitutions to a new actress who nearly says the name of the Scottish Play aloud. It plays just like "You Never Say 'Good Luck' on Opening Night" from The Producers and seems like it's just filling time here.
Indeed, even the really good filler songs don't entirely belong. There's a delightful little number for three female company members called, "How Do I Get A Part With The D'Oyly Carte?" Although it, too, flashes one back to a certain line from The Producers, (A chorus girl sings, "I've done it for money; I'll do it for art"), it's a bright, revelrous number with a catchy tune. But coming, as it does, between a thoughtful, reflective number sung by the company's leading lady, and a prop-throwing, fall-to-his-knees-in-angst "Soliloquy" by Stoker, it doesn't really fit.
The Stoker/Irving plot needs more focus and explication. Stoker is in a loveless marriage; Irving lives with his leading lady but has many admirers on the side. Is there a hint of love in the feelings Stoker has for Irving? A second-act single-scene visit by Oscar Wilde suggests that there may be, but a little more clarity would be appreciated. (And may we please have a moratorium on second act appearances of Oscar Wilde being used to help the main character get in touch with his true self?)
Of the three leads, Teri Bibb as Ellen Terry truly stands out, giving a strong portrayal of a leading lady past her ingenue years. Indeed, it is the sort of character we don't often see in an actual leading role, and Bibb plays Terry's experience and insecurities well. Gordon Goodman's voice is sometimes too thin for Irving's songs; Robert Patteri's Stoker never really earns all of his prop-throwing rage. The ensemble is quite good, however. It's an increasingly rare delight to hear eight voices coming together in a 99-seat house; that each member of Irving's acting company manages to develop an individual personality with little time in the limelight is to be applauded. The show itself, however, needs more development.
Children of the Night runs through November 1, 2009 at the Beverly Hills Playhouse. For tickets and information, see www.katselastheatre.com.
Katselas Theatre Company presents Children of the Night. Book, Music and Lyrics by Scott Martin. Set Design Jimmy Cuomo; Lighting Design David Barber; Costume Design A. Jeffrey Schoenberg; Musical Direction Ross Kalling; Hair Stylist Robin McWilliams; Production Stage Manager Dean Kreyling; Choreography Lee Martino; Producers Gary Grossman & Jayne Hamil; Directed by David Galligan.