SALT LAKE CITY — Dracula, the Musical was an unknown musical to me before given the opportunity to see it at the University of Utah. With music by Frank Wildhorn of Jekyll and Hyde fame and with the Friday the 13th full moon backdrop, I could not say no to this eerie opportunity offered me by the University of Utah Theatre Department. With book and Lyrics by Don Black and Christopher Hampton, the story is the classic Victorian novel where a young lawyer, Jonathan Harker, played by Matthew Rudolph, travels to Transylvania to make a deal with Count Dracula, played by Chase Quinn. Sounds like nothing can go wrong with this plan, right? The musical itself seems to have had a sordid history, having a short lived run on Broadway and many different stops and starts, as has the Dracula story itself, so I looked forward to seeing how it played out on stage and how director Denny Berry chose to bring it to life.
I was impressed by the set design by Rachel Harned and was absolutely blown away by the lighting design by Cole Adams. I would go so far as to say that the lighting was indeed the star of the night, with the red lamps indicating the more evil moments of the show, the clear brightness indicating the more pure moments, and the mixtures of colors that indicated when good and evil came together. Adams gave the show a depth that was somewhat lacking in other areas, and I was grateful to have the lighting element included.
I also particularly enjoyed the live music under the conducting talent of music director Alex Marshall. Marshall also headed the orchestra as the main keyboardist, and his talent was evident. The musicians in the orchestra kept the evening flowing and added a great deal to the feel of the evening, which was mostly a tone to start off the fall season with the fright and horror that many come to expect.
The female leads in the production, Hayley Cassity as Lucy Westenra and Talia Heiss as Mina Murrat, were strong, especially with the beautiful harmonies they sang in the song, “Whitby Bay,” and with Cassity’s performance in the Act One Finale, “Life after Life.”
The main problem with the production came with the title character, Dracula played by Quinn. The character is a delicate balance to play, and I am not sure what director Berry was going for in his concept. Quinn’s mimicked an over the top Transyvanian accent, and while the rest of the main cast costuming by Heather Rogers matched a beautiful Victorian era with the other vampires being a strange vampire-goth mix that were consistent even if I did not quite understand them, Dracula’s costuming was erratic. In the first act, Dracula had a strange floral robe and white wig that was later changed for a more traditional black cape and even stranger wig. His behavior was slightly off putting and bordered on farcical rather than romantic and mysterious. Costuming and behavior combined made it difficult to believe that the women in the story would succumb to his charms. I struggled at first to determine if this off-putting concept was due to writing, acting, or direction, but because Cassity as Lucy portrayed her change in the song, “Life after Life,” so well, I was left to conclude that the choices of how Dracula were to be portrayed had to be that of the actor and director. Perhaps as the audience member I was missing the metaphor or dracula concept, but I found that the villain that Lucy was becoming was much more compelling, and I wanted to see more of that arc.
As the climax of act two, the pivotal moment between characters Mina and Dracula, reached its height, it became absolutely unbelievable, thanks to the depth of character that Heiss created, that Mina would make the choices she was making towards this characterization of Dracula. Quinn’s talent as an actor is not in question; it is just as though Quinn played the role with almost a sense of humor and irony while the rest of the cast played the show as if Dracula was a man to be feared, and it left me confused about the direction of the play at large.