A Perfect Vampire World
Suitable For Under 18's and Erotic
By Heinz Rogi
Rudi Klausnitzer and Jim Steinman
Byline: Vienna - World premiere of Roman Polanski's "Dance Of The Vampires" at the Raimund Theater
After "Elisabeth," the "Vereinigte Buehnen-Traumfabrik" set to work on their second coup in Viennese musical world premieres when Peter Weck was still in charge. Roman Polanski himself was also supposed to direct the musical version of his immortal film Dance Of The Vampires, which has been entertaining several generations of cinema-goers since it was made in 1967. The top writer ("Greek Wine) and musical librettist Michael Kunze and Jim Steinman, the successful American rock composer with a weakness for classical antiquity, were charged with giving the vampire plot an artistic blood transfusion form film into musical. Steinman actually began his career in musicals 20 years ago and then proved he was capable of writing super-hits with songs for Meat Loaf and Bonnie Tyler.
On Saturday at the Raimund Theater, the launch of the new musical flagship went off without a hitch, almost perfect in fact, and the production in Vienna, and maybe elsewhere, should prove to be anything other than a flop. This is assured by Jim Steinman's mostly very refined instrumental music, all at once powerful, uncomplicated, kitschy in careful measures which also borrows for his own repertoire of successful hits as a safety measure. Barely interrupted by spoken dialogue, the work actually steers towards opera-style symphonics and marvelously supports Marcel Prawys's view that musicals of today are a continuation of the successful popular operas. The resource cupboard has been raided and for the zany spirited Professor Abronsius, for example, there is a scene skillfully modeled on Rossini-style "sprechgesang". And the first act, in the Transylvanian inn with Jewish hosts Chagal and Rebecca (James Sbano and Anne Welte in the premiere casting) owes much to Anatevka folklore.
Encounters With Don Juan Of The Night Played by Gernot Kranner, one of the best actors of the evening as if taken from the film, the Professor runs around frozen stiff and is woken up with hot water and garlic (choir); the chaste Alfred (played by ex-chorister Aria Sas) falls in love with the coquettish Sarah (Cornelia Zanz), but doesn't dare to take up her offer of climbing into the bath with her. And then he appears, the Don Juan of the night: Count Krolock woos the now fully fledged beauty with his erotic powers of persuasion and invites her to the ball.
Apart form excellent performances by all the protagonists, the success of this premiere mainly rests on the shoulders of this key musical character actor: Steve Barton is an imposing presence throughout the whole evening.
William Dudley's masterful stage set in the second act in the Count's castle alternates as hall, bedroom, crypt, graveyard and finally turns into the ballroom scene. Chagal and his maidservant (Eva Maria Marold), already bitten in the first act, enjoyed themselves beforehand in the coffin, the Professor and Alred tried unsuccessfully to drive stakes through the bodies.
Night breaks and in a marvelous scene, the vampire zombies crawl out of their graves. In a great monologue, modeled on the "Flying Dutchman", Count Krolock remembers his long life (unfortunately clouded by all kinds of silly lines such as "1730 after the May devotion..."). Then finally the all-important bite in the ball scene, the minuet and the escape as good as the film version. The final "Dance of the Vampires" (choreography: Dennis Callahan, wonderful costumes: Sue Blane who wants to create a "vampire fashion look") unnecessarily brands the immorality and consumer-oriented attitude of today's youth in only semi-comprehensible text ("...no morals, couldn't care less").
Perfect, lively and entertaining, slightly creepy, erotic, and parodying comedy; the new production reflects the artificial world of today's musicals that, like vampires, are still a bit anemic: a planned run of months or even years, three-fold casting, worldwide availability, and songs that may be "hits" in their own right form the show's strategic backbone. It also has to be politically correct and suitable for under-18's, and as such is a commendable, highly professional production. Roman Polanski, who is no stranger to directing opera and theater, and the leading team can be more than satisfied.