Dance of the Vampires by Jim Steinman and Michael Kunze. Based on a film by Roman Polanski. Music and lyrics by Jim Steinman. Original German book and lyrics by Michael Kunze. Book by David Ives, Jim Steinman, Michael Kunze. Directed by John Rando. Choreography by John Carrafa. Music supervision and vocal and dance arrangements by Michael Reed. Scenery designed by David Gallo. Costumes designed by Ann Hould-Ward. Lighting designed by Ken Billington. Sound designed by Richard Ryan. Hair design by David H. Lawrence. Make-up design by Angelina Avallone. Fight direction and illusions by Rick Sordelet. Orchestrations by Steve Margoshes. Music director Patrick Vaccariello. Music co-ordinator Michael Keller. Flying sequences designed by Paul Rubin / ZFX, Inc. Associate choreographer Tara Young. Casting by Bernard Telsey Casting. Bat animatronic by Jim Henson's Creature Shop. Special effects design by Harlan Silverstein. Prosthetics by Louie Zakarian. General management 101 Productions, Ltd. Technical supervision Tech Production Services, Inc. Production supervisor Bonni Panson. Starring Michael Crawford. Also starring Rene Auberjonois, Max von Essen, Leah Hocking, Liz McCartney, Ron Orbach, Mark Price, Asa Somers. With David Benoit, E. Alyssa Claar, Jocelyn Dowling, Lindsay Dunn, Jennie Ford, Edgar Godineaux, Ashley Amber Haase, Derric Harris, Kerrin
Hubbard, Robin Irwin, Terace Jones, Larry Keigwin, Brendan King, Heather mcFadden, Raymond McLeod, Erin Leigh Peck, Nathan Peck, Andy Pellick, Joye Ross, Solange Sandy, Jennifer Savelli, Sara Schmidt, Jonathan Sharp, Doug Storm, Jenny-Lynn Suckling, Timothy Warmen, Jason Wooten and
Robert Evan. And introducing Mandy Gonzalez.
Those who have been sharpening their teeth, hoping for a mammoth camp flop to arrive on Broadway will have to hang on a bit longer. As tortuous and misguided as Dance of the Vampires, the new musical at the Minskoff, is, this is unquestionably the show the creators wanted to make. What's onstage are ambitions fulfilled, not abandoned.
Who could blame them? Arch musicals are in at the moment, and any show based on the Roman Polanski film The Fearless Vampire Killers is going to have a satirical sensibility perfectly in keeping with today's Broadway. With an established composer for the score (Jim Steinman), a popular director-choreographer team (John Rando and John Carrafa) and a high-wattage star (Michael Crawford), sheer force of will could clearly transform Dance of the Vampires into a hit.
But the other winking musicals have something to ground them, be they a legendary comic, outrageous subject matter, or familiar rock tunes; Dance of the Vampires has no such element. Its book (by David Ives, Steinman, and Michael Kunze, responsible for the original German libretto) is a collection of lame gags (a talking bat, a laughably unidentifiable year, a sign identifying the secret vampire crypt, and so on), and Steinman's score is a highly uneven collection of group numbers, duets, and solos that deal with surface emotions and situations at best, reducing its sizable roster of characters to a gallery of waxworks. (For its connection to the plot, the interpolated "Total Eclipse of the Heart" could have been replaced by "The Star Spangled Banner.")
What Dance of the Vampires lacks in every other area, it does its best to camouflage with some of the most opulent set designs seen on Broadway in years. David Gallo has outdone even his previous exceptional work here. The least stunning of his concoctions - a spooky forest, a smoky inn, an attic bedchamber, a great gothic bedroom - are remarkably atmospheric, providing the sense of time and place nothing else in the show approximates. But his most impressive creations comprise a graveyard (complete with coffins) that floats in from the fly space, and a mammoth drawbridge emerging from complete demonic blackness. Spectacle, yes, but eminently theatrical.
These effects must elicit gasps and applause because the creativity they display provides the audience with what it sorely craves: invention. Everything else is shockingly predictable. Rando seems to have directed the show and Crawford as if to recreate the actor's most famous Broadway performance: He uses fog machines literally, has his actors moving about a giant staircase for the second act opener, and even has Crawford and Mandy Gonzalez's female lead stand close to each other caressing each other's face in such a way that the entire show is half a breath away from turning into a Phantom of the Opera photo shoot.
Carrafa avoids this fate, the dull, lifeless dances on display here clearly of no one else's creation. With little entertainment value or visual style, the dances are plentiful, displaying the keen agility of a remarkably athletic group of dancers, though they have little more to perform than a series of seldom varying acrobatic routines. (I gave up trying to count the number of somersaults after the opening number.) Even when a dancer steps off the stage and begins twirling in air, it - like so much else in this show - reeks of desperation, an attempt to get a rise out of the audience through any means necessary.
Crawford is the most common means to this particular end, possessing the requisite star power to rise above the carnage around him, if in stature only. (Could anyone but a true star make anything out of a line like "God has left the building," his first utterance?) He brings about as much emotion from the lines and lyrics as can be expected, and he certainly looks like he's enjoying himself during each of his moments onstage. When the material drags him into camp, he has no choice but to follow, but since he's in on the joke, he never completely drowns.
Neither do the show's juvenile leads. Gonzalez, as the virginal woman Krolock plans to sacrifice in his plans for world domination, has a powerful voice if frequently vapid stage presence. Max von Essen has the fire that she lacks, and is generally the best straight man in the wackiness of the world around him. He's also a remarkably durable singer, almost finding credibility in some of the show's cheesiest numbers.
Rene Auberjonois brings a certain dignity to Professor Abronsius, the vampire hunter come to take down Krolock, but he has less depth to play than most of the other actors, and can't make much of anything of the toothless Gilbert and Sullivan parody he sings. Ron Orbach, Liz McCartney, and Leah Hocking are wasted as three Lower Belabartokovich townspeople, and Asa Somers and Mark Price in thankless supporting "comic" roles have about one real scene each, and not one creative idea between them. (Somers's gay vampire character, Herbert, is funny for a few moments, however.)
Finally, special mention must be made of Richard Ryan, the show's sound designer, whose solution to the show's amplification needs is to the turn the volume up as high as it will go in every scene. This is painful throughout, but unfortunate only at first - when it becomes obvious Ryan's work is preventing you from correctly hearing lines like "Garlic, Garlic / The secret of staying young / Garlic, garlic / That's why we're so well hung," how can you not be grateful?
Still, Dance of the Vampires will probably be accelerating deafness in theatregoers for at least the immediate future. It's not bad enough to close immediately, and it's too bad not to run at least a while. Should you head to the Minskoff, you'll probably enjoy it most if you bring low expectations. And earplugs.