Dennis Rosa is 45, but he's been in show business for 37 years. Originally a cherubic choirboy from San Francisco, he was here recently to put some polishing touches on "Dracula," which he directed for Broadway in 1977 (winning a Tony nomination).
"I did this show originally in a teeny-tiny theater in Nantucket in summer stock," Rosa says. "It was just like this production except miniaturized . . . It was the hit of the season, but it took four years to get it to Broadway."
This particular "Dracula," while based on the Bram Stoker story, is a script originally done in 1927 for Bela Lugosi, who performed it on stage before it became a film. But Rosa's interpretation is what made the revival a hit -- that and the black and white sets by Edward Gorey.
"I wanted to frighten today's audience," he says. "My idea was that the most frightening thing is to be attracted to something ghoulish, so Dracula had to be very handsome and sexy. You had to want him to bite your neck."
The stylization is inspired by the acting style of the '20s, as preserved on film. "I want them to work as the best 1920s actors," Rosa says. "They totally believed everything they said. When Garbo said, 'I want to be alone,' she really meant it. That's the only way lines like, 'Don't touch me John, I'm unclean,' can work in this play."
Rosa has directed all three road companies of "Dracula" and rehearsed each of the leads (starting with Frank Langella) on Broadway. "It's so personalized, so choreographic. I guess it is like my baby."
Each segment of his career seems to have been affected by natural changes. When his voice changed, he turned to acting and dance, and moved to New York immediately after high school. One of his first jobs, at 18, was playing the 12-year-old son of Beckett in the play of that name, starring Laurence Olivier. "I played juveniles until my hair went," says Rosa, who began to go bald in his early twenties. "I think a lot of it had to do with dyeing my hair so many times for parts."
Since then he has directed a soap opera ("The Doctors," for several years), written an oft-produced mystery play ("Sherlock Holmes and the Crime of the Sign of the Four") and written, directed or choreographed musicals, ballets and operas. His next project is a musical called "Surf City," using music by the Beach Boys.
As for the teeny-tiny theater in Nantucket -- it burned down in its second season.