Arts & Entertainment, Music

Reviving the undead through song

In this climate of all-things vampire, it is no surprise that Montreal’s Camp Broadway is now performing Dracula: The Musical. Based on Dracula, the Bram Stoker novel, the musical attempts to stay true to the classic Victorian tale—but this time, the story is propelled by dramatic musical numbers. With music by Frank Wildhorn—the renowned composer of shows like Jekyll & Hyde, The Scarlett Pimpernel, and Victor/Victoria—Dracula: The Musical is a romantic thriller that exploits the simultaneously evil and tragic aspects of the famed monster.

When the young English lawyer Jonathan Harker travels to a remote Transylvanian castle to fix a deal with the mysterious Count Dracula, he ends up unleashing a slew of unimaginable nightmarish events. Although Jonathan manages to narrowly escape from Dracula’s grip—as well as those of his seductive vampire brides—once the count has set his sights on Jonathan’s fiancée Mina there is no easy way to escape his seductive, blood-lusting, and manipulative powers. After Dracula bites Mina’s young friend Lucy and turns her into a vampire, it is up to Jonathan to ensure that Mina, who is slowly falling under Dracula’s spell, does not meet the same fate.

Although the production is intended to reflect the dramatic nature of Stoker’s work, it is not so easy to take the show’s purported gravitas seriously. The very nature of a musical—to turn every emotion and plot twist into an opportunity for song—almost undoes any potential for seriousness. Though Dracula bursts onto the stage as a symbol of horror and fright, he soon breaks into a soulful rendition of “Solitary Man”—a ballad of love, loss and despair (keep in mind that this play was written long before Forgetting Sarah Marshall).

The play feels kitschy rather than artistic, and gimmicky rather than substantial. There are certainly some memorable numbers—quite a few, in fact—but Dracula ultimately doesn’t hold a candle to that other musical about a reprehensible-yet tragic-figure, The Phantom of the Opera. The dialogue is corny at best, with a few vain attempts at humour, and a few more successful ones at melodrama.

The performance itself is also a bit amateurish. Though many of the actors had some pretty impressive vocal abilities—the notes were by no means easy to hit—the clumsiness of the venue undermined the cast. Not only were there moments of harmonic dissonance, but crashes of the sound system altogether.

But the play didn’t shy away from the novel’s inescapably erotic elements. Although there weren’t exactly live sex scenes—unlike many other contemporary vampire remakes—the musical makes no attempt to hide the fact that the vampire is a sexual being, and the nature of his power distinctly carnal. He lures victims by sinking his fangs into their neck, and induces an erotic desire that eventually leads them to invite him into their beds. In that sense, Mina’s struggle to reconcile her increasing lust for Dracula with the knowledge that he is a nefarious force was fairly convincing.

It is comforting to know that the genre of the musical is not entirely dead. Sure, the cynical voyeur can always ask, “Why are they singing about that?” or “Another song? Really?” But sometimes it’s nice to put all the sarcasm aside, and just shut up and listen to people sing—even if it is about Dracula.

Dracula: The Musical runs September 10-11 at the Gesù Theatre. Tickets are $25, and are available through the box office: 514-790-1245

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