Dracula The Musical was performed by final-year BA Musical Theatre students from the London College of Music in Lawrence Hall, University of West London. This review reflects the casting for the evening performance on 4 December.
Star rating: four stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ✩
Bram Stoker’s 1897 gothic novel has been the inspiration for countless adaptations and spin-offs for film, stage, and broadcast media over the decades. These include a number of reworkings of the Dracula story for musical theatre, most famously the version by Frank Wildhorn, Don Black, and Christopher Hampton, which enjoyed a brief stint on Broadway in 2004.
Another that clearly deserves a wider audience is Dracula The Musical with book, music, and lyrics by Alex Loveless, presented at the White Bear Theatre in 2008 and revised for the current production at the London College of Music. Adapting Stoker’s original faithfully down to some of its finer detail and epistolary format, Loveless’ musical is characterised by the accessibility of its score and its strong musical hooks, such as the Act I finale ‘Vengeance’.
In re-creating the gothic setting of the late 19th Century, David Henson’s direction seems to respond ideally to the simplicity of Loveless’ show in its austere staging and the attention to detail of the secondary characters, who occupy the background in many of the scenes but nonetheless artfully reflect the action. Anthony Whiteman’s choreography is similarly effective in a range of contexts, from a balletic solo interlude to episodes of combat between vampires and mortals.
Jarvis Linert brings a commanding stage presence to the title role of Count Dracula, while resisting the temptation to affect an overdone Transylvanian accent. Matt Szadura demonstrates much engaging storytelling as Jonathan Harker, and Will Jarman portrays Renfield’s madness in a powerful yet controlled manner. Strong performances were likewise delivered by Cameron Reid (Arthur Holmwood), Jonny Rust (Quincey Morris), Alex McAteer (Dr Seward), and, notwithstanding his introduction relatively late in Act I, Callum O’Rourke (Professor Van Helsing).
Millie Hobday as Lucy Westenra ably portrays the many sides of an innocent young lady who attracts a plethora of suitors before undergoing her vampiric transformation. Viktoria Sigurdardottir similarly shines in the role of Mina Murray: the solos and duets featuring her, Szadura and Linert (in various combinations) represent some of the most successful moments in the production.
Inevitably given the story on which it is based, Dracula The Musical crystallises around an ensemble cast of predominantly male characters. While the level of talent demonstrated by the male actors is commendable for a drama school production, it is a pity that some of the obviously gifted female cast members, many of them juggling multiple roles, were not on this occasion given greater exposure.
Andy Smith’s orchestrations, developed for this production, add touches of the symphonic to the show’s score. Under the musical direction of Noam Galperin, the string quartet of Katre Bozoglu, Maggie Snow, Dermot Crehan and Sam Creer supplement the backing track by providing live accompaniment for the more poignant episodes such as Lucy’s death.
The first half of Dracula The Musical could perhaps have been five minutes shorter, and it is not always clear whether the action is taking place in London, Vienna, or Budapest, given the difficulty endemic to stage media of conveying instantaneous changes of location. A few issues in connection with sound were also apparent during the performance of what was evidently a technically challenging production.
However, all that detracts little from the overall success of an enjoyable production that unquestionably does justice to Stoker’s immortal novel and, through the strength of the musical and the quality of its execution, breathes much new life into an already familiar and much cherished story.