Theater Review: 'Dracula, The Musical' surpasses conventions

You will not find a better show in town than “”Dracula: The Musical.”” Although the name “”Dracula”” conjures the classic image of a man bedecked in a black, collared cape, fangs dripping with blood and a wily stare, this particular La Jolla Playhouse production magically steers clear of such cliches. And although we hear the word “”musical”” and automatically think of a corny story with happy, dancing people, “”Dracula”” also avoids that particular cliche.

“”Dracula”” succeeds at sidestepping any corniness and creates a play that closely follows the original story, enhanced by the score.

Without a doubt, this play has the breeding of Broadway with its solid performances, meticulous set design and exquisite visual effects. Created by the “”Dracula”” dream team including two-time Tony Award-winning director and writer Des McAnuff, with book and lyrics by Academy Award- and Tony Award-winners Don Black and Christopher Hampton, and music by veteran composer Frank Wildhorn, this is a play that proves to be this season’s crown jewel at the La Jolla Playhouse.

Not only does Dracula, played by Tom Hewitt, rise to the occasion (from the undead) by providing a larger-than-life performance, but he seduces the audience, leaving it wanting more, proving you can’t keep a good man down, even if he does rise from the grave.

When asked what UCSD students might enjoy most about this production, Hewitt replied, “”It is the closest adaptation to Bram Stoker’s novel and the script retains that eerie, creepy poetry that appeals to a lot of people.””

Augmenting the actors’ performances, such as that of lead female and lust-object Mina (Jenn Morse) is a striking set design. In fact, the set alone is a reason to go see this play. Operated by hydraulics and an ingenious inlay of contraptions, the actors are able to fly offstage, drop down chutes, float through scenes, and even become a part of the set.

The very first scene, for instance, is quite stunning with its mechanized horse-drawn carriage and arrestingly black-clad vampire, who later disappears vertically off the stage in a split second without a sound.

By not having stage hands moving and shifting the set, the various scenes have more freedom to play out the story without the difficulties of timing and what is known in theater as “”blocking.””

Also, the members of the audience really lose themselves in the story by not having to sit through set shifting. The staging revolves around the main actors rather than the other way around. The secondary actors then become a part of the scenery as they hang, in some scenes, on specific devices of the set design. Frequently, the actors are transported to and fro across the stage by these devices, rendering an even eerier feel to the play.

The costumes also play a toothsome role in the musical. As actors dangle from the swift motion of the set pieces, some of their costumes contribute to the phantasmal design that never ceases to enthrall the audience throughout the performance.

The costuming also delivers Count Dracula from that odious realm of tasteless cliche as he is first introduced to us in a white wig and trailing Victorian housecoat.

The lighting and music synchronize to give the actors a tremendous appearance and an appropriately placed sense of drama and horror. The musical score itself is fastidiously carried out with each scene and the visual results of the lighting reinforce the unsettling effect.

“”Dracula: The Musical”” has all the key ingredients for a delicious theater experience. It holds the power to attract all, even non-playgoers.

The poetical script will appeal to literary audiences while the special effects and gore will appeal to those more inclined to violent, action-packed entertainment.

The music will appeal to the sensitive while the drama will appeal to sensationalists, and even for those just after “”hot chicks,””this play will appeal to them.

No matter what, this is not a play to be missed.

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