Drac’s Back

Theatre Three’s current musical really sucks.

Ordinarily, these would be fighting words, but since we’re talking about Dracula: The Musical, the description applies in a literal sense. It is, indeed, the Bram Stoker story of a foreign visitor with unusual sleeping habits, unmerciful control issues and unspeakable taste in beverages.

Granted, critics who caught Dracula’s brief Broadway run in 2004 tended to go with the other definition of suckage, from the New York Times (“all the animation, suspense and sex appeal of a Victorian waxworks in a seaside amusement park”) to the Village Voice (“the artistic equivalent of the vacuum that nature abhors”) to New York Magazine (“that music… is like a long, uniform sausage made of sawdust…”). Yikes.

Actually, I saw the Broadway production and rather enjoyed it for what it was—a sweeping, melodramatic telling of a basically indestructible story, not to mention attractive leads Melissa Errico and Kelli O’Hara (just before her leap to Broadway stardom in revivals of The Pajama Game and South Pacific) singing well and showing skin.

Nevertheless, the question is whether enough time has passed since the glare of Times Square for the show to get a fair, fresh shake. Port Jefferson’s Theatre Three finds out this month when Dracula, with book and lyrics by Don Black and Christopher Hampton, and music by Frank Wildhorn, receives its Long Island premiere (Sept. 11-Oct. 30).

“They’ve rewritten it,” director Jeffrey Sanzel assured me in our recent phone conversation. “The Broadway show was overproduced and lost sight of the storytelling. This is the touring version based on the European production. They got rid of a lot of the garbage, dropped songs and wrote four new ones—including a beautiful song for Van Helsing about losing the love of his life.”

Sanzel, artistic director since 1993, says Theatre Three’s two previous Wildhorn outings, Jekyll & Hyde (Fall 2005) and The Scarlet Pimpernel (Spring 2002) were both quite successful, and he anticipates that Dracula will be a visually striking production with much “sensuality and passion” (albeit no nudity). “I’m a big fan of the vampire genre,” adds Sanzel. “And we’re running it right up to Halloween, which we thought would be appropriate.”