It’s that time of year. Temperatures drift below 70 degrees. T-shirts and shorts are packed away, replaced by flannel-lined jeans and cashmere sweaters and scarves. Coffee shops push pumpkin-spiced drinks ad nauseam. And vampires take center stage: the most famous being Count Dracula, a creation by Victorian novelist Bram Stoker.
Horror and comedy fans finally have an entertaining, though not terribly loyal, treatment of the classic novel in Gordon Greenberg and Steve Rosen’s zippy and zany Dracula: A Comedy of Terrors (★★★☆☆).
But really, who wants a loyal adaptation when parody can be so much fun? After all, we’ve seen what happens when earnest writers try to adhere to the integrity of the original text.
Long-time theater-goers may recall 2002’s Dance of the Vampires, the short-lived (six weeks) Broadway flop starring Michael Crawford with music by the king of melodramatic pop, Jim Steinman. Based on Roman Polanski’s The Fearless Vampire Hunters, the incredibly costly dud was never quite certain if it was straight-out melodrama or over-the-top camp. Audiences weren’t sure either and a closing notice was soon staked to its home at the Minskoff.
The same can be said for Dracula, The Musical, composer Frank Wildhorn’s 2005 Broadway show that critics scorned and audiences avoided. Could Sir Elton John pull it off a year later with Anne Rice’s musical adaptation of Lestat? Nope. Clearly, stage vampires are a hard sell.
Which is part of what makes Greenberg and Rosen’s skillfully silly show work so well. It knows exactly what it wants to be. Every actor in this carefully assembled cast is in sync with one another and acts with the same camp style.
James Daly — who seems to have been hiding out in Canada — makes for one thirst trap of a nocturnal leading man. Think blonde Frank N’ Furter with stronger cheekbones and abs. Is he seeking a male or female companion? Yes. In Transylvania, pansexuality reigns supreme. Anyone with a solid neckline is encouraged to apply. Daly is a truly marvelous actor who has matinee looks and the acting chops to match.
Arnie Burton is also a riot in the role of Mina, the less-pretty sister of Lucy (Jordan Boatman). Mina’s beauty pales in comparison to that of her sibling. “You inherited mother’s beauty. All I inherited was flat feet and low self-esteem,” Mina laments. Later, he appears as Dr. Jhhhon Van Helsing, a lady doctor draped in Lederhosen and sass.
Burton is a New York stage veteran who had audiences doubled over in laughter a few years ago in Charles Ludlam’s classic, gender-bending quick-change comedy The Mystery of Irma Vep. He possesses the same sensibilities in this fast-paced send-up.
Ellen Harvey is equally commanding as Dr. Westfeldt, Lucy and Mina’s father, who runs a sanitarium, and also as Renfeld, the mentally compromised patient who has a penchant for insects.
The rest of this cast proves itself to be versatile and nimble in the extremely demanding show.
Even more impressive is the minimal amount of space they have. The theater alone is quite intimate, and the backstage area must be cramped. Yet these five managed to rapidly transform themselves into various characters. Greenberg, who also directs, makes sure there is never a lull in the action and this 90-minute comedy breezes by like a ghoulish chill.
Tristan Raines has designed beautifully elaborate, yet functional costumes that capture the Victorian period yet give the actors the ability to jump in and out of them with ease. Tijana Bjelajac’s set also evokes the melodramatic eeriness of the era. Her puppetry is also a delight in a short bit that involves Andrew Keenan-Bolger, who also plays Jonathan Harker, voicing and operating puppets on both sides of him as a trio of suitors at Dr. Westfeldt’s society parties.
Funny though it is, one wishes Greenberg and Rosen had pushed the envelope a bit further and would have leaned into the gay camp sensibility a bit more. The material is certainly ripe for it. As it stands, it’s ideal entertainment for the fall season.
Those who are unable to see Dracula: A Comedy of Terrors in person might be pleased to know that there exists a four-part radio-show podcast of it with a completely different cast. Still, few things compare to the joy and thrill of live theater and, given this cast, it would be a bloody shame to miss it.
Dracula: A Comedy of Terrors is playing through January 7, 2024, at New World Stages, 340 West 50th St., in New York City. Tickets are $100 to $154. Visit www.draculacomedy.com.
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