Jeremy's Weblog

I recently graduated from Harvard Law School. This is my weblog. It tries to be funny. E-mail me if you like it. For an index of what's lurking in the archives, sorted by category, click here.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

This post replaces the one from last night about the new Broadway musical "Dracula" that I saw last night.

The musical was still in previews -- it opens tomorrow, but a friend of mine was able to get a pair of free tickets for yesterday and invited me to come along. It was not a good musical. I will now ramble on for a few paragraphs about it, hoping to accidentally stumble on points that real theater critics will make when the reviews come out this weekend, so I can point to how brilliant I am. :)

Perhaps I don't know enough about Dracula to appreciate the musical, although requiring heaps of background knowledge would surely be a negative for any piece of pop culture (The Cranky Critic, who writes relatively solid movie reviews, makes it a point not to refer to source material or previous films in a series, arguing that the piece should stand on its own -- which is the right approach, I think). My knowledge of Dracula is that he's a vampire who likes to suck people's blood. And that he lives in Transylvania, which I would guess is in Eastern Europe somewhere, but you could convince me otherwise.

The musical, as none should, opens with a long scene between Dracula and a guy who I assumed would actually be important, but ends up pretty much irrelevant. At least twice it's mentioned that he's from London. But you can't tell by the accent. This was a puzzling, although minor, problem with the entire cast. Some number of them were supposedly from London. I don't know which ones, because the accents were barely noticeable and completely inconsistent from one line to the next. Also, one character, who I think was supposed to be from Transylvania, had what sounded like a Jamaican accent. In addition to the accent strangeness, Dracula has some sort of skin condition in the first scene which later seems to magically disappear without explanation, which made me unsure for a while whether later scenes were Dracula, or some other dude they hadn't introduced yet. Really, I wasn't sure. And I was trying my hardest to keep up.

So, the guy who ends up being pretty irrelevant sings a duet with his fiance, who is somewhere else, but it all becomes very unclear on stage where she is, and why she's there, and what in the world they're singing about. Most of the songs in the musical have an odd but consistent quality of seeming like they're either being sung in wrong sequence, by the wrong characters, or have been lifted from some other musical entirely. At one point, when the characters decide to take a ship to Transylvania from some unidentified place that I assumed was America (because of the accents) but my friend assumed was somewhere in England, for some reason I can't remember but probably had to do with catching Dracula, they break into a song about how modern the world is at the turn of the century that they stole from Titanic: The Musical, except that the song in Titanic was actually decent. This song, in addition to being completely out of place, buried the tag line in music that didn't fit the flow of the words, and had stupid lyrics. And not enough lyrics, either -- they repeated the same insipidly mediocre verse 3 times about how it's amazing that we have cameras that flash. A completely bizarre moment in a completely uncompelling show.

Most of the show's songs suffered in virtually all respects except that the singers could actually sing pretty well. But the lyrics didn't rhyme where they should have, and when they did, rhymed with predictability and a complete lack of cleverness. The music didn't fit the lyrics, didn't fit the tone of the show, and wasn't very catchy. I can't remember any of the melodies, not even the one for the first act closer, "Life after Life," which is not a terrible title, except that they repeated it perhaps 50 times in the 3-minute song, including a wonderful run of "Life after life after life after life after life after life after life..." that lasted perhaps a full thirty seconds, and makes no sense.

Another thing that made the show terrible is that the characters made no sense. Basically, and this is giving nothing away, Dracula falls in love with the female lead for no obvious reason, and speaks to her (either in her mind or in real-life but only when no one else is around, I couldn't tell which they meant to convey. In fact, in another moment of nonsense, they had just had a scene where they decide she can never be left alone, and so her husband must stay with her while the rest of the cast goes off to find Dracula in Transylvania -- but, because she needed to be alone for Dracula to talk to her, to get him offstage, they have the husband say, "I'll just walk them to the door" and he proceeds to leave her alone for a full four minutes (since the door was apparently a half-mile away from the living room), right after they just decided she can never be left alone. Stupid contrivances for the sake of a meaningless and incoherent plot. Stupid.). So she hears his voice, and then, from that, apparently falls in love with him, although who knows why, and she sings a couple of uncompelling ballads about how she's torn between whether she can love him, or she can't. One of the ballads, called "If I Could Fly," has, as its "hook," a lyric that was (I'm trying to recall from memory, so I may be slightly off) "I wish I could fly / No, that's a lie, I don't." Well, if it's a lie, why are you singing about it????

In a funeral scene, there was a bizarre 15-foot-tall sculpture of a child holding a skull that was never explained and never referred to. That sculpture surely took longer to make than the show is going to last on Broadway.

The biggest disappointment was that Frank Wildhorn, despite the NY Times calling him a hack in an article I linked to on Sunday, has in the past written some catchy melodies. None of that was on display in this score. The saving grace, for Mr. Wildhorn, is that the lyrics are so much worse. They're poorly crafted, without a gift for rhyme, wordplay, or intelligence in evidence anywhere; they make no emotional sense with the story; and, at those moments of the show when really absolutely nothing makes sense at all, they become direct exposition set to lousy music, so that in the middle of a song that once had verses and a chorus, you get a paragraph of speak-singing that sounds like, "And Dracula, which as you know I am, I am going to get on the train now. And I am going to come see Mina, who I love, but I want to know if she loves me, and I will try to make her love me, but in the meantime all of the other cast members are coming after me with a knife, and I don't know if they will find me... Life after life after life after life after life after life I wish I could fly but no I don't oh yes I do no I don't and why is there a sculpture of a child holding a skull on the stage oh tell me why tell me why tell me why tell me why?!?!?!?!"

I could go on. But I've made my point. The show was bad. And dull, which may be its biggest weakness, since at least if it was bad but entertaining people would go for the spectacle of it. But it's bad and a crushing bore. With no sense of humor about itself, no comedy, no levity, no break from the mediocrity it drowns in. I take the risk of looking stupid if all the reviews say it's amazingly great.

For another perspective, check out this review I found via Google and liked.