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By Bridgette M. Redman
“Dracula The Musical” continues at The Dio – Dining and Entertainment through Nov. 2 Photo: The Dio
‘Tis the season for ghouls, ghosts, pumpkins and vampires.
Those looking for the latter to spice up their Halloween season can head to The Dio in Pinckney and get their fill of the Bram Stoker tale told in all its classic glory. Forget Buffy and “Twilight.” Forget the campy memes or modern twists on the legend. This is Count Dracula, Van Helsing, Mina, Lucy, Jonathan Harker and Renfield, straight out of the 1897 gothic horror novel.
Even the music, and the twist on the ending, is fully gothic in genre and style.
The tale? “Dracula The Musical” with music by Frank Wildhorn, the creator of the musical “Bonnie and Clyde: A New Musical.”
Steve DeBruyne is the busiest man in the house, fulfilling the roles of artistic director, director of this musical, Jonathan Harker and head waiter for this dinner theater. While that may seem a heavy load, he carries it with grace and skill. The stage pictures are carefully planned and spread out among Matthew Tomich’s two-story set. The pacing is sometimes ponderous, but this adds to the gothic feel of the musical. There are no comedic moments in this script. It is meant to be creepy and frightening, a traditional telling of the horror tale. DeBruyne captures this and keeps the intensity high.
The play opens with Harker arriving at Count Dracula’s castle in Transylvania on a stagecoach. Joshua David Cavanaugh greets Harker with suitable creepiness and soon launches into his song “A Solitary Man,” showing off his strong vocal abilities and rich timbred voice, though with an accent that sometimes muffled the lyrics.
The music, directed and conducted by Tyler Driskill, is rich and full, with a live orchestra of keyboard, cello, percussion and violin hidden behind the set. The score is filled with several solos, allowing the musical to feature the strong voices gathered in this cast, along with some beautifully arranged chorus numbers that infuse energy and hope into the story at key moments.
Sarah Brown’s Mina is strong and as pure as Jonathan describes her in the first scene. She shows a real struggle between what she ought to do and the mind-controlling compulsion that Dracula throws on her. While Lucy, played by Mahalia Greenway, gave in easily and quickly to Dracula’s calling, Mina resists, even after things seem hopeless.
Greenway does a beautiful job – first as the innocent young girl choosing among her three suitors, and then as the sexy and insane vampire filled with bloodlust and a passion for Dracula.
Midway through the first act, the audience gets to meet Jared Schneider’s Renfield, a mental hospital patient who eats flies and spiders and who talks to Dracula in his mind. Schneider plays this grotesque man to the hilt, and his voice in “The Master’s Song” is impressive and clear. His scenes, both in the first and second act, are highlights in the show, a true creepiness injected into the Victorian setting. His is a commanding presence that contrasts well with Cody Musteffe’s Jack Seward, the doctor in the insane asylum, and one of Lucy’s suitors.
Andrew Gorney’s Abraham Van Helsing is another highlight of the show, with his barely hidden pain and his obsession with finding and defeating Dracula – the demonic Nosferatu he sings about with passion and conviction.
The posse of vampire hunters, played by Gorney, DeBruyne, Musteffe Peter Crist and Zak Stratton, raise the tensions in the second act, a group of men with little but conviction and scant knowledge to stir them on against the supernatural and seemingly all-powerful abilities of their foe. They open the act with the exciting “Undead One,” where they confront the turned Lucy. Later they are almost heart-breaking in “You Have My Word.”
Speaking of heart-breaking, DeBruyne’s solo, “Before the Summer Ends,” is a haunting love song that sets the stakes high for the remainder of the show.
Set designer Tomich also designed lighting and sound. While both designs were intricate and demanding, there were execution problems with the lighting, as spots often led the actors rather than captured them and there were odd moments of dark faces that seemed unintentional. However, the backlighting and silhouettes were stunning and added much to the show’s spookiness, especially in the scenes with the vampires who haunted the story behind set pieces before coming out to feast.
Norma Polk’s costumes were traditional Victorian, with the real triumph being the series of dresses worn by Mina. In her costumes we see the transition that takes place in Mina spelled out symbolically in color and fabric.
“Dracula The Musical” is a heavy production, meant to haunt in theme, story and music. The Dio stays true to Wildhorn’s interpretation, paying attention to the details that make a tale gothic. It’s fine October fare and served with a delicious dinner of fried chicken and exceedingly tender ribs.
‘Dracula The Musical’
The Dio – Dining and Entertainment
135 E. Main St., Pinckney
6:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 10, 17, 24, 31
6:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 11, 18, 25, Nov. 1
12:30 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 12, 19, 27, Nov.2
12:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 30
2 hours, 36 minutes