MURRAY — A night at the Desert Star means live ragtime piano, audience sing-along, a post-production music revue, and plenty of comedy tailored to the local community. As a Desert Star veteran, I’ve remarked before that enjoying one Desert Star production mean’s enjoying them all. However, this musical parody by Peter Van Slyke easily became my favorite production at Desert Star to date. As Dr. Seward (Anthony Lovato) and his wife Mina (Jennifer Aguirre) try to figure out what ails their houseguest Lucy (Krystal Kiene), they enlist the help of Mr. Butterworth (Lee Daily), Dr. Van Helsing (Matt O’Malley), and the homely nurse Miss Willis (Camee Anderson Faulk). With Renfield (J. Tyrus Williams) under Dracula’s powers and dangerously on the loose, they all risk becoming the next victim of Dracula (Matt Kohler).
I could easily attribute the show’s success to its talented cast, strong vocals and choreography, beautiful costuming, and entertaining effects as each of those strengths was evident throughout the show. However, it was the well-paced script, frequent puns, and equal opportunity ribbing that set gave this production its comedic edge. The jokes in this production fell largely into one of four categories:
- Word play with a profane or lewd subtext (“Somebody shipped their pants!”)
- Television and movie references including Sesame Street and Monty Python and the Holy Grail
- Utah jokes (surprisingly not limited to Mormon culture), and
- Jokes that sprung like a trap after being carefully set over the course of one or more scenes.
Each style was effective in evoking my laughter, but none amused me so thoroughly as those in the last group. One recurring, marginally funny joke, “We’ll be together… forever… like the families that are together… forever…” seemed strained at best each time Williams repeated it. Although I may have rolled my eyes each time he began the line anew, I finally understood the payoff when it resurfaced in the final musical number “We Go Together,” and I found myself laughing aloud throughout the number.
Given the task of bringing this script to life, directors Scott Holman and Mary Parker Williams certainly succeeded. Staging choices added deeper layers to the spoken comedy, especially when the script called for physical humor. In addition, the directors helped the cast develop strong comedic characters with consistent physical attributes. As the noticeably unattractive Miss Willis, Faulk completely altered her posture and gait to create an apparent reason for dialogue which frequently called attention to the lack of male attention she received. Kiene as Lucy appeared to give up complete control of her appendages when under the powers of Dracula, which became particularly evident in the early number “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got that Fang)”. In contrast, Aguirre as the wealthy Mina carried herself regally, commanding the attention of both her husband and Dracula.
Peppered with songs taken from screen, Broadway, and radio, this production featured such showstoppers as “I Like Bugs” and “Big Spender.” In each number I was impressed with the actors’ ability to remain in character while singing. Kiene, as she sang Lucy’s lines in “It Don’t Mean a Thing,” was an exceptionally strong soloist, and I found myself looking forward to the music revue at the night’s end so I could hear more of her combination of classical vibrato and Broadway belt. O’Malley also showed off a great solo voice as Dr. Van Helsing and continued to shine in his solos in the olio. Not only did I enjoy the songs vocally, but the choreography was innovative and synchronized with my favorite moments coming in “Stout-Hearted Men.”
It was Mina’s costumes which first called my attention to the talents of costumers Lynn Funk and Mary Parker Williams. After I noted how perfectly Aguirre’s costumes fit her frame and suited her character, I looked more closely at the details of the other costumes. Willis’s apron helped to turn a beautiful, young actress into an awkward, middle-aged nurse. Also, the wigs used by several characters supported their eccentric, aggrandized personalities. My favorite was the wig worn by Williams as Renfield; he truly looked like he belonged in a looney bin. There was one moment of confusion early in the second act when Dr. Van Helsing appeared on stage without the white wig he’d worn earlier in the show. As there never was a reference to the change, and he appeared later on with the wig, I am left to assume it was simply an oversight after intermission.
This show, slated appropriately in the Halloween performance slot, featured great audio and visual effects, beginning initially with creaks, groans, and echos I would have expected from a haunted house. The rigging used when Dracula appeared in his bat form allowed the bat to move in a way that seemed to mirror the dialogue, despite it truly just being a bat on wires. Not only did the bat fly, but Lucy herself made her first entrance in air. As a frequent Desert Star audience member, I appreciated these unexpected effects overseen by stage managers and the mood set by lighting designer John Duffy.
The reasons to attend this Desert Star production are numerous. Whether for the dry humor, the excellent production quality, or the chance to see Frankenstein and Dracula perform the Muppet song, “Mahna Mahna,” Dracula He’s So Vein! is well worth an evening of time and the ticket price. With humor extending far beyond the go-to Mormon culture jokes, this parody is well-suited for a diverse audience and would be a great destination for a group of friends or a date. What more can I say than, “This show definitely doesn’t suck.”
[gss-content=box]Dracula He’s So Vein! plays at the Desert Star now through November 8 with two shows each Friday, four shows each Saturday, and nightly shows on Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday evenings. Ticket prices range from approximately $10 to $18. Tickets and information are available at www.DesertStarPlayhouse.com.[/box]