Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: St. Louis

Dracula, the Musical
New Line Theatre
Review by Richard T. Green

Also see Richard's recent reviews of As You Like It and We All Fall Down

Vanessa Simpson and Cole Gutman
Photo by Jill Ritter Lindberg
Doubly frightening for a gay man, New Line Theatre's production of Dracula, the Musical, from 2001, looks and sounds great. Cole Gutman plays the strange Transylvanian nobleman, and Brittany Kohl is Mina, the girl he tracks down. Mr. Gutman was excellent as the lead in the musical Nine in March of last year, produced by the same group here at the Marcelle Theatre in St. Louis. And now you can just put him into a dramatic black tunic, and very, very high buccaneer boots (by costumer Zachary Thompson), and he cuts a mean figure, showing lots of singing genius.

The show was a great success when it premiered in 2001 at the La Jolla Playhouse, with music by Frank Wildhorn, and book and lyrics by Don Black and Christopher Hampton. But it ran only 154 performances when it made the big jump to Broadway in 2004.

And now in St. Louis, 20 years after that, this new Dracula is irresistible in overcoming women, and anyone else, if you ask me, in a local premiere. He looks great, but can never see himself. (Which, to me, is the ultimate gay nightmare.) I joke, but Mr. Gutman is perfect in the role: the count who's survived for hundreds of years by the drinking the blood ... of humans.

And that's not even the scary part, at least not for me, though the transfer of bodily fluids is done in a powerful, visceral way. Company founder Scott Miller once again co-directs, this time with choreographer Tony L. Marr Jr. And Mr. Gutman becomes an implacable suitor who creates, in thoughtful, educated Victorian women, a sense of overwhelming passion and shame. I should probably denounce the script as misogynistic, but in this case it's a one-of-a-kind story (though oft-reiterated) of dominance and submission.

The outstanding Kent Coffel is Van Helsing, Dracula's nemesis, in what amounts to the acerbic New Line Theatre's first great Christian-positive musical, as the women fall prey one by one. Christianity is a dark and stormy thing here that only plays out in dungeons.

But an unexpected, modern horror emerges soon enough, and this Dracula becomes an even stranger figure in the process. Because Dracula, The Musical works extremely well as an allegory to the problem of methamphetamine all around us, and its victims: people who, when using, seem to be born aloft in one of those big Roxie Hart musical numbers, ravished by some invisible rapture, for no particular reason. And it's not even showtunes night.

And then (in my experience, living in an average-sized city, and often in Chicago) the meth addicts gradually just wither away in the street. It's heartbreaking to see a young man looking so old, either back in the 1980s or now, though for very different reasons. And of course, when Bram Stoker first published his "Dracula" in 1897, it probably worked just as well as a metaphor for people succumbing to opium or morphine or laudanum, and the heartbreaking separation and ruins of all of that. It has to come out somewhere. And that somewhere, to me, will always be the theatre.

Horrifically, the victims of the vampire, including the very fine Ian McCreary as Jonathan Harker (a journalist intrigued by the mysterious count), are soon rendered miserable in a spectacle that's as blood-chilling to watch in view of the very allegory I now set forth. The deliriously harmonized "Weird Sisters" make up for any smoke machine, moving as one to create their own hazy nightmarish quality, bowing and scraping as if they'd watched us fall, spinning Dracula's victims into a fearful state, as the gentleman–from the Carpathian region of what we now call Romania–works his way to England. The Weird Sisters are a trio of maddened beauties, perfectly creepily played by Ann Hier Brown, Chelsie Johnston, and Sarah Lueken.

Brittany Kohl is great as the intellectually nuanced Mina, who comes up with the plot to track the vampire down near the end, though it seems hideous and cruel to her. Mr. Coffel, as Dr. Van Helsing, does very beautifully with his solos, and seems to emerge in the story like some Sidney Paget illustration, urgent and grave. (Van Helsing suffers from a drug addiction, himself.) Vanessa Simpson does very well as Lucy, Mina's friend, who tragically gets in the way of the vampire's all-consuming powers. An air of deadly inevitability enfolds them all.

The story and even the meta-story work great. Although the intermittent light specials overhead (the night I went) were a little bit extra. Matt Stuckel's lighting design adds a good, delirious quality, but seemed about 50% too overt, except for the red light specials, which glowed like very insistent red-hot coals overhead. Maybe their animated, twinkling quality could perhaps be a bit slower, in a long-range frequency. Though I have to admit, it adds to the hypnotic, out-of-control lasciviousness that works on every level.

In any case, I have known a few friends who did meth for years and did not die in the street (at least not yet), although one had a terrible heart attack, and another let himself go to the point of meningitis, after regularly using the drug. Most of them simply vanished from sight. But the show unerringly conjures that same sense of dread in the repeated incidents of people grievously surrendering to the vampire, and striking an all-too-familiar note of horror.

Rafael DaCosta is very fine as Mr. Renfield, the asylum patient who eats bugs to gain their life-force. Though he seems as sane as you or I in his meetings with Dr. Seward (the excellent J.D. Pounds), and terribly proud of his own reasoning skills in the sanitarium scenes. The New Line band is excellent under the direction of Dr. Jenna Lee Moore.

Unexpectedly, the humorous suitors to Lucy, including Dr. Seward, become a brave cohort to back up Van Helsing. In addition to Mr. Pounds, the surprisingly clever group includes Christopher Strawhun and Alex Vito Fuegner–presenting characters who seem uniquely ridiculous at first, but who become deeply admirable, banding together in pursuit of the count.

Dracula runs through June 22, 2024, at New Line Theatre, Marcelle Theatre, 3310 Samuel Shepard Drive, St. Louis MO. For tickets and information, please visit

Count Dracula: Cole Gutman
Mina Murray: Brittany Kohl
Lucy Westenra: Vanessa Simpson
Dr. Abraham Van Helsing: Kent Coffel
R.M. Renfield: Rafael DaCosta
Dr. Jack Seward: J.D. Pounds
Jonathan Harker: Ian McCreary
Arthur Holmwood: Alex Vito Fuegner
Quincey Morris: Christopher Strawhun
Weird Sisters: Ann Hier Brown, Chelsie Johnston, Sarah Lueken

The New Line Band:
Conductor/Keyboard: Dr. Jenna Lee Moore
Violin: Mallory Golden
Brass/Bass: John Gerdes
Percussion: Clancy Newell
Cello: Paul Rueschhoff
Guitar/Keyboard #2: Buddy Shumaker
Reeds: Mary Wiley

Production Staff:
Directors: Scott Miller, Tony L. Marr Jr.
Choreographer: Tony L. Marr Jr.
Music Director: Dr. Jenna Lee Moore
Stage Manager: Tawaine Noah
Technical Director: Matt Stuckel
Sound Designer: Ryan Day
Scenic Designer: Dr. Rob Lippert
Lighting Designer: Matt Stuckel
Costume Designer: Zachary Thompson
Props Master: Chris Moore
Scenic Artists: Mallory Golden, Matt Stuckel
Volunteer Coordinators: Alison Helmer
Graphic Designer: Matt Reedy