By Beki Pineda
DRACULA. Music by Frank Wildhorn; book and lyrics by Don Black and Christopher Hampton; directed by El Amstrong. Produced by the Aurora Fox Arts Center (9900 East Colfax Ave., Aurora) through Nov. 6. Tickets available at 303-739-1970 or at aurorafoxartscenter.org.
I hope the Fox knows how lucky they are to have Brandon Case in their shop. He and his crew seem able to produce/build any impossible thing the designers throw at them. Need a field of daffodils to grow out of the stage? Got it! An Indian campfire in the middle of the stage? No problem. Create the inside of Jeannie's Arabian bottle? We got this. Make a cross burst into flames or a vampire vanish on stage? Cmongive me something hard! One of the most entertaining parts of going to the Fox is watching the 10 impossible things in each show and how Case handles them.
The Fox also has the ability to get some of the best actors in town for their shows. The always brilliantly smooth Leonard Barrett takes on the lead role of Dracula. Conveying depravity and lonely need, his character elicits both dread and sympathy. Most of the women in the audience would have gladly offered their necks to him to make him smile. I love the way Leonard has the confidence to just stand and sing without the usual "dramatics." He is an eye magnet in any show, no matter how small the part. His Dracula is compelling.
Barrett is supported ably by Jenna Bainbridge, a Phamaly favorite, as his true love Mina. Thadd Krueger as her husband, Jonathan Harker, displays a charming voice and easy acting style. McKayla Marso, as Mina's friend-turned-vampire, gets one of the lighter moments in the show when she has to choose between three suitorsone brave, one bright and one boring. Veteran actor Gregg Price is Dr. Van Helsing, the vampire expert, while Gustavo Marquez plays the crazed bug-eating Renfield. The trio of suitors for Lucy (James Francis, Ethan Knowles, and a very funny Micheal O'Shea as the American cowboy) provide vocal and physical assistance in the search for Dracula. The Brides of Dracula are three sexy vampires: Colby Dunn, Rachel Whyte and Juliette Petersen.
It was also amazing to hear the music created by the show band led by Martha Yorty. The sound created by only four instruments was impressive. The performance started with a violin solo by strolling gypsy player David Waldman.
The movable set designed by Michael Duran established the mood of the show from the moment you walked into the theater, and it created the necessary multiple sets with a modicum of delay. Shannon McKinney's lighting, as well as the sound design by Curt Behm, added to the moodiness of the production. Two tiny problems with the costumes: The cloak in which Dracula first appears resembled a velvet bathrobe more than a cloak worthy of the Prince of Darkness, and the dress that Mina wore to her friend's funeral seemed more suited to an evening out, with its bare arms and revealing décolletage.
With all this positive energy and talent on stage, why wasn't this a soul-satisfying theater event? The cast does a great job with the script and music given them. It's just that the script didn't seem worthy of the work that went into it. A real disappointment because Frank Wildhorn is a personal favorite of this reviewer. His music for CIVIL WAR was moving; the twisted love story and horror of random murders of JEKYLL AND HYDE is compelling; SCARLET PIMPERNEL is one of my go-to CD's in the car with lyrical ballads, stirring anthems and clever comic songs. Conversely, the music of DRACULA (though well-sung) seemed apathetic and monotonous, with unimaginative lyrics. Twenty-four hours after having seen it, the two songs remembered are the comic song "How Do You Choose?" and the always-included-in-a-Wildhorn-musical anthem of hope and determination, "Deep in the Darkest Night."
In spite of the less than moving script, the production that the Fox presents is worth the trip to see it. Any opportunity to see a cast this talented present a show is to be taken seriously. Not to mention those impossible special effects.
WOW factor: 8.5