Exhuming the Tony-winning production of "Dracula" at this time of year is a fiendishly clever idea. And though Martin Landau as everyone's favorite vampire is a questionable choice, this arched-eyebrow sendup of the time-honored story is a welcome antidote to all the sugar in the December entertainment system.
Illustrator Edward Gorey's luxuriously Gothic, black-and-white (with just a spot of crimson) settings and costumes are still witty and picture- perfect. In fact, much of the evening's fun is in finding the bats Gorey has cunningly secreted throughout the costumes and props -- it's much like hunting for "Ninas" in a Hirschfeld drawing.
And The Tale That Would Not Die still manages to combine a snicker with a scare, despite a rather disappointing Dracula. Granted, replacing the sinuous and sinister Frank Langella in the role he created on Broadway is mission impossible for anyone. But in his black velveteen suit and wide-buckled belt, Martin Landau looks more like a Vegas vampire -- the ghoulish specter of Wayne Newton -- than Langella's fatally attractive Mr. D.
Even though he's not the sort you'd choose to lose your immortal soul to, Landau makes an endearingly goofy monster. One would think actors would avoid the patented Bela Lugosi schtick the way vampires shun garlic flowers, but Landau goes after it with gusto. There are a few unintentional laughs in his rather sexless seduction and clumsy cape flourishes, too -- light on his little bat feet he's not.
Although Dennis Rosa hammers the camp attitude home like a stake through the heart, directing everyone to play the obvious to the extreme, the rest of the cast fares somewhat better, notably: Michael Nostrand as the fly-eating madman Renfield; heartlessly hammy Humbert Allen Astredo as the fearless vampire killer Van Helsing; and exquisitely angular Mary Dierson as vampire's vamp Lucy Seward.
It's the special effects and tongue- in-cheek touches that save the day, including several speed-of-sight disappearances, a swooping bat and a scurrying rat, lights that dim drastically whenever the dread Undead comes up in conversation, and a hysterical Hammer Horror soundtrack sawing away. Though its pulse is faint at times, this "Dracula" is still a holiday amusement in a different vein. DRACULA -- At the Kennedy Center Eisenhower Theater through December 31.