October 12, 2023
In Time for Halloween, 'Dracula' – This Time Bi – Conquers New York
Frank J. Avella READ TIME: 12 MIN.
Move over Mel Brooks. The sexiest and most hilarious "Dracula" satire is upon us... well, upon the NYC stage, anyway.
The story of the Prince of Transylvania has had many incarnations.
Bram Stoker's 1897 novel was first adapted for the stage by Irish actor and playwright Hamilton Dean who wrote his version in 1924 where it premiered on the UK stage in Derby, and after a 3-year tour, London. It was revised by American John L. Balderston in 1927. This was the first authorized adaptation. The eventual Broadway production in October of 1927 (which ran for 261 performances) starred Bela Lugosi, who would go on to play the Count in the 1931 film adaptation.
In 1977, the play was quite successfully revived, starring Frank Langella, who would go on to star in yet another film version in 1979 (Raul Julia would succeed him in the role on Broadway).
Onscreen, the count has appeared in countless films from silent classics like Károly Lajthay's Hungarian film, "The Death of Dracula" and F. W. Murnau's "Nosferatu," through the decades to Francis Ford Coppola's "Dracula," to Mel Brook's moderately amusing "Dracula Dead and Loving It."
Broadway has seen its share of wacky vampire shows like Jim Steinman's "Dance of the Vampires" (based on Roman Polanski's cinematic attempt at comedy, "The Fearless Vampire Killers") and the ill-fated but equally ridiculous "Dracula: The Musical," Frank Wildhorn's bombastically bad attempt to tell Stoker's classic horror story.
On the Show's Creation
With "Dracula, A Comedy of Terrors," director and co-writer Gordon Greenberg and co-writer Steve Rosen take things just seriously enough to realize the camp. They've reimagined Stoker's done-to-death story through an unabashedly queer and unapologetically satiric manner resulting in 90-minutes of side-splitting hilarity balanced by sly subversive meditations on identity and sexuality. Oh, and a ripped, half-naked Drac doesn't hurt, either.
The general plot is similar to Stoker's, only this time Dracula is a charismatic, egocentric young hottie (the stunningly good-looking James Daly) who preys on the lovely Earth scientist Lucy (Jordan Boatman) and her meekish fiancée attorney Jonathan Harker (Andrew Keenan-Bolger). Also in the mix are Lucy's sister Mina (Arnie Burton), her father, Dr. Westfield (Ellen Harvey) and a host of other characters you might recognize from many a Dracula incarnation.
And in this version, Dracula hits on both Lucy and Harker!
The show was commissioned by the Maltz Jupiter Theatre in Florida in 2019 and first developed there. It then had productions in Albany and Montreal before bowing in NYC last month to much deserved rave reviews.
The creators, Gordon Greenberg and Steve Rosen have collaborated on the musical, "The Secret to My Success" and the play "Crime and Punishment–a comedy."
The 5-person cast comes with numerous stage, TV and film credits, including:
Andrew Keenan-Bolger (Broadway: "Newsies," "Tuck Everlasting," "Mary Poppins" and "Seussical"). Jordan Boatman (NY theater: "The Niceties" and "Medea" at BAM). Arnie Burton (Broadway: "Peter and the Starcatcher," "The 39 Steps," "Amadeus." Off-Broadway: "The Mystery of Irma Vep"). Ellen Harvey (Broadway: "Present Laugher," "How To Succeed in Business...," "Phantom of the Opera" and "The Music Man). James Daly (Canadian theatre: "Damn Yankees," "Grand Hotel," "Cabaret," "Master Harold...and the Boys.")
Those ensemble members as well as the two show creators shared their thoughts on the making of this fab new production.
Steve Rosen: There was a rigorous audition process where we got to see people's interpretations of the material and the style. Gordon took the opportunity to work with each of these people and take them through their paces in a very convivial way, having people read opposite each other, which we were fortunate enough to do because James, who plays Dracula, who is just incredible, I mean, what a package of a performer to be able to do all the things that he can do. I know you're just going to take out, "what a package!" – He was generous enough to come down from Montreal and read with people... We have been very fortunate that these people are all wonderful and so game to try anything and come in with ideas and are super professional and just genuinely nice.
Gordon Greenberg: James is an extraordinary actor and a lovely human being. When he showed up for rehearsals in Canada on the first day, he was walking around like half-jokingly saying, "easy to work with happy to be here." And I said, "Can we bottle you and bring you to America?" He shows up ready to go ready to work and with so much enthusiasm and positivity. That it definitely imbued itself into the entire cast.
Steve Rosen: He's a consummate professional... he comes in with so many creative ideas. I think this entire cast is made up of stars. This is just one star you've never seen before. And it's a real joy and an honor for us to be able to be the ones to introduce him to New York City and New York City to him.
On Prep for the Production
Jordan Boatman: I watched a lot of movies. I was watching Monty Python. I watched a lot of "Young Frankenstein." Gene Wilder has always been one of my favorites so any excuse to get in there and just watch a bunch of Gene Wilder movies, I'll take it.
Andrew Keenan-Bolger: I wanted to watch everything that was out there, whether it be the Coppola or the more recent takes on vampire comedies – stuff like "What We Do in the Shadows" – it was just helpful for me to see everything, see all the different approaches. There's a lot of camp in the Coppola that I don't think was intentional. The cast and I have basically started a Dracula Movie Club because there are so many adaptations of this story.
On Having a Queer Team Developing the Show
Andrew Keenan-Bolger: I feel so lucky anytime I'm in a room with other queer artists. Even today, I think as a gay person, when you are entering a space it sometimes takes a little bit of code switching or censoring yourself to feel comfortable in a space that does not have queer people in it. I feel like I have made more choices and taken more risks knowing that what the creative team wants is me it's not some watered down or straight-washed version of me. That for any artist is lucky – when you just get to live in your own skin every night.
Arnie Burton: There's a shared kind of dialogue, shared cultural references that we all just have and it's a shorthand and a shortcut. We reference the same movies, the same performances. And respect the lineage of Charles Ludlum and Charles Busch and those who came before. It's odd to say, as the elder gay man in the group, that I still find myself relaxing more when I'm in a predominantly, but not completely, gay room.
On Working with Such a Gifted Ensemble
Ellen Harvey: Every person in our cast is such a great comedian that they understand the structure of supporting everyone else's comedic moments. We are all onboard no matter what character we are in. And that's just been the most extraordinary gift of not only incredibly talented actors, but people who understand supporting that genre.
Jordan Boatman: I had to take a couple of weeks and get over my anxieties of being surrounded by these very funny people. My gosh, how do you measure up when Arnie and Ellen and Andrew and James are just on fire every second?
James Daly: It's really fun to get to play with four other actors who have great comedic skill. I've learned so much from them. We've got a cast of veteran Broadway actors so they're all bringing so much talent to the room. These are some of the best actors in New York and therefore, some of the best theater actors in the world, and it pushes me to be better.
The cast is hilarious. It's a blend of some of my favorite brilliant character actors like Arnie Burton and Ellen Harvey. They always end up completely stealing the show. And then we have these two young breakout stars Jordan Bowman and James Patrick Daly, who are so talented, the world is going to be really excited to discover them. And then you have me just trying to not laugh. I'm surrounded by insane, carney theater people who make me giggle all day long.
On Laughing Onstage During the Show
Jordan Boatman: I try very, very, very hard not to. James tries to get me all the time. I had to have a conversation with myself during the rehearsal process, like you're in the play. And you have to stop laughing at Arnie. So really, it's just about taking a deep breath and trying not to crack up. We slip every now and again. I try to hold it together.
Ellen Harvey: I'm the one doing the transformation so they're having to watch it. Sometimes I'm very glad that I don't know what I'm doing, or I can't see myself because then that would be a little difficult. Sometimes I think you actually have to pretend that everything you're doing is as serious as Shakespeare or Chekhov.
Andrew Keenan-Bolger: I have to make eye contact with (Ellen) while we hold for that (applause). And she is, of all of us, the most stoic – will never break on that stage.
On Gender Reversal of Roles
Ellen Harvey: I don't think you can play at it, you have to just embody, especially for that time, the stereotype of the time, the body language, the inflections, you just have to play that, and hope that everyone will go along for the ride and take a moment and forget that you're in a different pair of shoes, so to speak.
Arnie Burton: Mina's not as physically attractive as her sister, but she's got these urges and she's very sexual, but she doesn't know what to do with them. She has all these feelings and some is inappropriate socially, but she can't help herself. And, in this version, Dr. Van Helsing is a woman, who is a proactive, strong, butch woman, very powerful. It's great to play these two different versions of women.
On Being Sexualized by Gay Men and Women
James Daly: I just try to laugh it off. I take the compliment and try to not let it get to my head too much. And then just continue to focus on giving a good performance and being a good actor because it's nice to be thought of as attractive. But I also want to be thought of as a good comedian and a good actor as well. So, I hope that doesn't overshadow what I want to do with my career, but it doesn't hurt either. I'd be lying if I said it felt bad.
On The Positive Reactions of NY Audiences
Arnie Burton: From the first invited dress rehearsal, the audience has responded to it, amazingly. We tinkered with it a little bit in previews, but not a lot, because the audiences were responding to what Steve and Gordon had done.
James Daly: It's been really affirming, first and foremost as an actor that, "Oh, yeah, I have what it takes to make a New York audience laugh." Gordon, our director, has encouraged us to really find the heart of the story in every moment, and not just rely on gags for laughs. The story resonates with people and they've built it in a really smart way so that it's a moment of sincerity immediately followed up by a moment of humor, which I think opens people up.
Andrew Keenan-Bolger: It's been amazing. I feel like, especially right now when there is a lot to be stressed out about in the world, it feels really nice to go to work every day and perform for an audience that is basically just laughing for 90 minutes straight. It is the best kind of therapy.
"Dracula" is playing a limited engagement through January 7, 2024 at New World Stages (340 West 50th Street), NYC.
Frank J. Avella is a proud EDGE and Awards Daily contributor. He serves as the GALECA Industry Liaison and is a Member of the New York Film Critics Online. His award-winning short film, FIG JAM, has shown in Festivals worldwide (figjamfilm.com). Frank's screenplays have won numerous awards in 17 countries. Recently produced plays include LURED & VATICAL FALLS, both O'Neill semifinalists. He is currently working on a highly personal project, FROCI, about the queer Italian/Italian-American experience. He is a proud member of the Dramatists Guild. https://filmfreeway.com/FrankAvella https://muckrack.com/fjaklute