Theater

Vampires, The Musical Kiss Of Death

Hugh Panaro vamps it up with Allison Fischer as little Claudia in
Hugh Panaro vamps it up with Allison Fischer as little Claudia in "Lestat," the Elton John-Bernie Taupin musical based on Anne Rice's novels. (By Paul Kolnik)

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By Peter Marks
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 26, 2006

NEW YORK -- Dear Broadway:

I'm not sure how to put this, but, well, the fixation with singing vampires? It has to stop. I mean, give the bloodsucker a ballad, and it's his show that joins the walking dead.

First, in 2002, came the campy, short-lived "Dance of the Vampires," with the Transylvanian townfolk lending their voices to a musical salute to garlic. Then two years later, "Dracula, the Musical" opened its casket to reveal a count whose killing spree entailed boring his victims into submission.

And now, dearest Broadway, "Lestat." Oh, "Lestat," "Lestat," "Lestat"! The show that could break the spell! The one that might finally take this sorry trend and drive a stake through its heart.

"Lestat," which opened last night at the Palace Theatre, is based on part of Anne Rice's "Vampire Chronicles." Rice's work was also the subject of the slinky movie "Interview With the Vampire," which cast Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt as androgynous magazine-cover ghouls. "Lestat" features less glamorous actors singing hymns to their inner undeadness and engaging in ungodly amounts of neck-biting -- sessions that, yawn, leave marks but no real impression.

What this latest vampire musical shares with its fellow vampire musicals is a big price tag -- "Lestat's" spreadsheet involves a reported 12 million smackers -- and the goal of a "Phantom"-caliber mystique. The only thing distinguishing this musical from its late, unlamented predecessors is that the lead vampires play for the, er, other team. In other words, "Lestat's" contribution to art and equality is demonstrating that a gay vampire with a two-octave range can be just as dull as a straight one.

More shocking than the feasting on blood -- which is accompanied in "Lestat" by spooky video effects that glow the color of tangerines -- are the lyrics that Bernie Taupin has affixed to Elton John's somber pop melodies. "How luminous he looks to me/So radiant and glorious," Lestat (Hugh Panaro) sings, while ogling his beloved, the doomed Nicolas (Roderick Hill). "One savage kiss is all he needs/To change his life and make this night victorious."

Need I explain?/You feel the pain/With lyrics this laborious.

Directed by Robert Jess Roth with the grandiose solemnity usually reserved for state funerals, "Lestat" begins in 19th-century France, travels to antebellum New Orleans and then heads back to Paris. Many portentous scenes unfold, with dialogue (care of Linda Woolverton) to match Taupin's lyrics. "I have given you the dark gift and the power to pass it on," intones the disheveled vampire (Joseph Dellger) who attacks Lestat while he's out on an evening constitutional. "Nothing on earth can end your life now but the sun or a blazing fire!"

Panaro played the Phantom on Broadway for some breathtakingly immense number of performances, thereby joining Michael Crawford -- the original Phantom, as well as the star of "Dance of the Vampires" -- in the select club of actors who've warbled "The Music of the Night" and drunk blood on a Broadway stage. In his fashionable three days' stubble, Panaro makes for a particularly earnest and humorless demon in the dark.

The neck-chewing, by the way, goes on and on, as Lestat sucks on, among others, his mother, Gabrielle (Carolee Carmello); a bereaved widower, Louis (Jim Stanek); and an orphan, Claudia (17-year-old Allison Fischer), who proves quite the handful as an eternal 10-year-old. She lives with Lestat and Louis in an Addams Family-type mansion and what appears to be a seamy vampire variation on adoption. Think "Heather Has Two Nosferatus."

The characters, including Lestat's nemesis, the oily Armand (Drew Sarich), are forced to divvy up the musical pickings, considerably slimmer than those John composed for "The Lion King" or even "Aida." (Let's not even talk about the oddly mannered performance of Michael Genet, as an oracular head vampire named Marius.)

Fischer's orphan, dressed goody-two-shoes-style by costume designer Susan Hilferty, gets the evening's liveliest song, a tantrum set to music called "I Want More." It should be noted that in this torpid vehicle, though, the kid speaks for no one but herself.

Lestat, music by Elton John, lyrics by Bernie Taupin, book by Linda Woolverton. Directed by Robert Jess Roth. Musical staging, Matt West; sets, Derek McLane; lighting, Kenneth Posner; sound, Jonathan Deans; visual concept design, Dave McKean; orchestrations, Steve Margoshes and Guy Babylon; music direction, Brad Haak. About 2 1/2 hours. At Palace Theatre, 1564 Broadway, New York. Call 800-755-4000 or visit http://www.ticketmaster.com .


© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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