Appeared in the German magazine "Musical Magazin", thanks for the translation go to Nils.
Death is such an odd thing
Was it really necessary to go to Broadway? To give a musical away, having to look at how it gets torn apart? After all the negative reviews and the closing of Dance Of The Vampires, the great white way will probably have lost some of it's magic in the eyes of Jim Steinman and Michael Kunze - and Roman Polanski wasn't involved anyway. In its English version, Dance Of The Vampires has become an entirely different musical - it is said that Michael Crawford deserves most credibility for this, but it is also widely known rumour that it was his name which gave the show a chance on Broadway in the first place.
The glowing curtain looks like a thousand red roses, when looking closer one notices that it's actually skulls. During the overture, colourful spotlights are flashing at the visitors, after that, everything has been changed until Count von Krolock appears for the first time: Sarah and two of her friends are collection mushrooms at a graveyard. One of the teens eats a mushroom, gets high from it, and begins to laugh hysterically. It's three days prior to Halloween, and so to combat the rising fear, Sarah begins to sing the slow, folk-style song "Angels Arise". As she is singing, two vampires can be seen climbing down on the right and left portal. A wild dance of the undead begins, with the vampires looking less original than they did in the original version - the black- leathered rocker-style touch seems to be totally missing in the costumes designed by Ann Hould-Wards. The choreography is stormy, yet it looks a bit acrobatic and classical. At least it's new, showing that John Carrafa can work autonomously, which one might start to doubt when one looks at what's ahead.
Coffin with exhaust pipe
Her friends being abducted by the vampires, Sarah remains alone at the graveyard, shouting: "My God!" That very moment, a coffin comes shooting out of the ground, landing right on the stage. Out of it comes a hale womanizer with a glittering smoking. It's not Liberace, and not Siegfried without Roy either - but obviously Michael-just-don't-dare-to-put-me-into-a-disguise-in-this- show-as-well-Crawford. He shouts: "God has left the building", which nobody can understand properly anyway, due to the heavy applause Crawford receives. After a song ("Original Sin" -> "Gott ist tot"), the man introduces himself (with an Italian accent) as "Count Giovanni von Krolock". He bites Sarah and invites her to celebrate her forthcoming birthday in his castle, at the time of the "total eclipse of the moon". Then he gives Sarah a sponge, which causes only laughter at this time, since nobody does yet know that Sarah likes to bathe. But if you think about it, she doesn't - at least not in this version. Our funny entertainer leaves the scene with a "Ciao bella". Then Krolock's "space ship coffin" closes its doors as the count pulls a kind of toilet flush, then its exhaust pipe goes pft-pft, and the vampire along with his container disappear again. By now, we have a clue about the niveau of the fun used throughout Dance: The American Krolock is no longer a lonesome count, wandering through eternity under the influence of irony and melancholy, but rather a kind of pop-star character.
Chagals' inn is very small and looks kind of similar to the inn from "Beauty And The Beast". In the Vienna version and in the movie, "Knoblauch -> Garlic" was the first sign of the nearby vampire castle, so it served as an important building block of a tense story. Now, the Broadway version doesn't need any tension anymore, after all, it's got Michael Crawford. As is obvious by the previous scene, the vampires are already known as "Garlic" is performed, so this song severs not much more than decorative purposes. As the professor and Alfred enter the inn, they are neither frozen nor afraid. Abronsius no longer looks like Einstein, but rather a little like Dr. Doolittle. From the very beginning, Alfred becomes the young hero of the evening - all his shyness from the Vienna version no longer seems to be there. As someone says "Sunset", the inn abruptly empties: Everybody starts to run in order to safely get home before the night begins. Then the witch from "Into The Woods" enters the room, introducing herself as Madame von Krolock - featuring Michael Crawford's voice. Of course, it's Krolock himself en travesty. He jokes around a bit and buys silk for a red ball dress.
Halloween in the carpathians
Abronsius' "Logic" no longer sounds like Gilbert & Sullivan, it's somewhat different and slower. Chagal complains about the way his daughter started to behave strange lately, Abronsius becomes suspicious and both men hurry up the stairs. Chagals bartender Boris remains in the main room of the inn alone, where a hand-doll looking like a bat, again featuring Michael Crawford's voice, convinces him to start serving Krolock, doing Koukol's job if we think of the original version. As Abronsius, Alfred and Chagal enter Sarah's Disney-style room, she is sitting in the bathtub. It's love at the first sight between Alfred and Sarah, but while in the Polanski version Alfred is too shy to even talk to Sarah on the first contact, in the Broadway version the two instantly exchange their diaries. The professor declares Sarah's current status ("she's a hemi-demi-semi- vampire") and hands out childish anti-vampire stuff like a Halloween pumpkin. During "There's never been a night like this", Sarah gets a blood transfusion from Alfred. Abronsius leaves, saying: "I'm at the toilet".
During Chagal's "Don't leave Daddy", the red muppet-bat comes in through the window on the roof, and Chagal falls out of the very same. Then Krolock is stands in the middle of the room, singing "A good nightmare comes so really", which is a relatively slow song and new as well. Once again, he invites Sarah into his castle: "Come to my castle, be my queen - this is a one-time special offer!" Sarah's room disappears and a big, void, flat hell of a moon appears behind her and Krolock.
In front of the inn, Rebecca and Magda (who only ever seem to be on stage together) mourn for the now frozen Chagal ("Dead is such an odd thing"). However, the undead Chagal awakes and starts to get close to Magda like a rabbit.. Then, "Mrs." Krolock appears and gives the red boots to Sarah - of course not without the addition of a few stupid jokes. While Alfred frightened stands below Sarah's window in the original, he now tells her "I love you" straight into the face right away. The "red boots ballet" is rather similar to the Stuttgart version, but once again John Carrafa remains much too classical, lacking anything thrilling or erotic. It does, however, look impressive how the Sarah-double rises up and flies freely in the air, just as she had previously wished for in the somewhat abstract "Braver than we are".
What follows is "Say a prayer", and while the song is performed it begins to snow. In the Stuttgart version, due to the light effects and the loud music, a fearful atmosphere was created at that point, however, in the US version it is nothing more than a Cheer-Up: Everybody seems to be strangely happy and confident as they begin their journey to the castle.
As we see the inside of the castle, it is instantly obvious that the small details of the stage design looked better in the Vienna version, but nobody will notice that anyway. Krolock welcomes Sarah with the same music he used when he welcomed Alfred and the professor in Vienna. However, he no longer sings about "the pleasure of sadness". Krolock also no longer seems to be ironic, instead, all he does is say some smooth declarations of love that strangely sound a bit like "Phantom". No Herbert to be seen anywhere either, and so this is how the first act ends.
The comedian called Krolock
As the second act begins, we see an impressive stairway, decorated with skulls and burning candles. We see the whole ensemble, along with a few strange monks (in a vampire castle?). "Total Eclipse of the heart" is the surprise of the evening, just like in "Mamma Mia", the viewers are amazed to hear this song they know from the radio turn up in this musical. Because of that, however, nobody really listens to the lyrics, which are slightly different than in the original Bonnie Tyler version. During the whole song, Krolock and Sarah clumsily stand on the stage and sing towards each other (now, what for did John Rando receive the Tony Award, again?).
What follows then is "Carpe Noctem", which is basically unchanged, and performed very well on Broadway. The part where an Alfred-double fights with a Krolock-double because of a Sarah-double is there as well, but again, Carrafa lost all the "drive" when he tried to copy the original choreography. Then Alfred wakes up, falls out of his bed, and instantly begins to sing "For Sarah". Max von Essen performs this like a typical love song coming from a confident, romantic hero, but it still appears so much more one-dimensional the fearful Aris Sas, who only became a bit more confident and brave as he was singing the song.
The machine of never-ending stupid jokes
Searching for the crypt, Alfred and the professor don't have to look very long, since as they are climbing up some stairs, a comic-like guiding sign labelled "Crypt" appears and points them in the right direction. Once they get there, they find two coffins. In one of them sleeps Chagal, the other one (belonging to Krolock) is empty. Rebecca and Magda enter the room, wanting to rescue Chagal. The professor says good bye, stating a stupid excuse, and Alfred leaves as well as he hears Sarah sing. Chagal awakes, bites the two ladies, and all three disappear into the coffin, but not without attaching a sign labelled "Do not disturb" on it. Alfred ends up in Herbert's room, where Herbert gives him a book about waltz and takes out some handcuffs, even though Alfred tells him that "he's straight". As in Vienna, Alfred shoves the book between Herbert's vampire teeth, but the umbrella-fight with the professor is missing. Sarah is putting on some make-up in her room and doesn't want to come with Alfred.
The graveyard seems has virtually not been changed at all, however, Jim Steinman now put a touch of "Siegfried's Trauermarsch" in there, granting Richard Wagner a short, yet original appearance on Broadway. Then, in between Eternity and Krolock's "Appetite" song, the professor and Alfred appear, telling Krolock that they will eventually and finally destroy him. "Die unstillbare Gier" has been translated to English so that it is very similar to the German version, however, the word "Gier" has been replaced with the relatively harmless word "appetite" and not with greed, which would have been more appropriate if one things of the biblical original sins. As a result, it appears that the song refers to sexual lust, instead of "real" greed for power, etc. However, what's the problem - we wouldn't believe this comedian Krolock anyway if he suddenly started to sing about serious things, would we?
Next is the ball scene. Krolock comes walking down a stairway, being dressed like a pop-star. He shakes hands with a few people around the place, then bites the bitten-but- cured-just-in-time Sarah a second time. Because the professor has forgotten his anti- vampire-crucifix, he and Alfred fall back to the well known candle trick. Then Abronsius lets the daylight in, so that Krolock falls to the ground and dissolves in steam. The professor declares himself as the winner, Sarah bites Alfred, and the three leave the stage. Suddenly, we see on a badly painted background image, the Time Square - the place just in front of the Minskoff Theatre. Instead of "Cats", the musical "Bats" is running here, featuring a guest appearance of "The Rolling Bones" - just like at the end of "The Producers", a lot of fun is made of the billboards that can be found along Broadway.
The ensemble take off their heavy leather coats, so that they look like the "greedy vampires of the present". Finally - the musical tries to relate to current affairs, does it? It's "Urinetown" and social critique!
Clichés instead of characters
Those who liked the cranky original movie, or the multi-dimensional characters of the original musical, will be utterly disappointed here: In the American version, everything has to go fast, and a loud laugh is more important than a smile. The characters are no longer unique and "real", but have been reduced to a degree that they fit into the standard categories of American entertainment - Alfred and Sarah, for example, aren't much different from those cliché-teens from all the High School movies. Alfred no longer shows any signs of shyness, instead, he seems confident throughout the entire show. He instantly tells Sarah that he loves her, walks right into the castle without any fears, thus no longer having any relation to the shy and fearful student Polanski played in his original movie. Sarah has lost everything that made her feel the desire to walk into the vampire castle - neither is she always alone (because she has friends), nor is she longing for freedom (because her father doesn't lock her up in her room). She also isn't coquettish towards Alfred any longer, instead, she's simply the girl that everybody wants to have.
Instead Count Giovanni von Krolock got a whole lot of new appearance - sometimes with and sometimes without Italian accent. It's he who has the most punch lines now, and Crawford doesn't seem to find it in any way embarrassing to use sentences like "it's-a me" or "it's-a too good-a" in order to make people laugh. As great as he may have been in "Phantom", he is the big problem of this show. Krolock is no longer a character in an intelligent plot, but rather a kind of superstar. "Dance Of The Vampire's" is his means to return, and who cares about the music written by Meat Loaf's songwriter and the story created by this one German guy anyway?
While the Vienna vampires were quoting Nietzsche with their line "God is dead", the American version repeatedly features the line "God has left the building" ("because he read the script", as one critic jokingly stated). This new line refers to a well-known phrase from American pop-history, when fans were told after concerts that "Elvis has left the building", meaning that there's no point for them to wait and hope to see him any longer. Of course, this very well suits the rock star character Krolock has become, but at the same time it demonstrates that the musical has lost all its literary and philosophical twists. Michael Kunze's rich language, the show's poetic and sometimes beautifully old-fashioned language have virtually disappeared.
Lines like "...cursed to live forever...", "...all we believe in are lies...", "...drown in the ocean of nothing..." or "...the endless emptiness" have either been removed, or put into the lengthy dialogs right in between Krolock's endless jokes, where they sound inappropriate.
Oftentimes, the English lyrics - written by Jim Steinman - are much simpler than the original ones. "Lös die Fesseln der Moral, folge Deinen verborgenen Trieben" for example has become "Take my hand and learn from us, we will touch you and we will reach you". Because a whole lot of spoken dialogs have been added, the lyrics of the songs have become much less important anyway, as most of the plot is brought about using the dialogs. This is definitely a retreat from the modern, well-composed pop-musical developed in Europe. It has been turned into something Broadway currently demands, namely the "good old times".
This brings us to David Ives, who is said to have been responsible for adapting the original book to American humour standards (but who blamed all the bad jokes on Michael Crawford, who is probably the person everybody is blaming everything on by now). When in the first act Chagal runs out of Sarah's room, carrying a pumpkin, wanting to hunt for vampires, he shouts: "I've got a pumpkin here and I'm not afraid to use it" - Michael Kunze certainly wouldn't have sunk that deep. "American humour" means flat, sexual allusions, Krolock's Italian accent, or the absolute pointless use of the sponges. What is called "tongue-in-cheek humour" in America will, as used in this show, look plain stupid to Europeans. If you saw bewildered faces in the Miskoff Theatre, then these were most likely the faces of German musical tourists.
"Dance Of The Vampires" doesn't take itself serious anyway: After a high note in "Death is such an odd thing", Magda reaches for her head and gets dizzy - the piece is making fun of its own music - "Forbidden Broadway" is delivered right along with the show. That the thing takes place "eighteen-eighty-something" is repeated by all characters so often, that even the must dull person gets that even the characters believe their musical is nothing but a parody. Of course, Abronsius no longer comes from Königsberg, but from "Haidlbörg", which is the American viewer will know from "The Student Prince".
Due to the heavy changes that took place until very short before the premiere, a few contradictions between music, lyrics and the plot remained: Originally, only totally sucked-out people become vampires - this is true, in the show, for Sarah and Chagall. However, it doesn't seem to apply to Rebecca, Magda or Alfred, who become vampires right after one very short bite. After Krolock's bite, Sarah behaves horny and rebellious, yet she sings this romantic love with Alfred, sharing its melody with him. Like in the German versions, Alfred sings that he can't sleep, however, he doesn't even want to in this version, as everybody can see he's busily working. Sometimes one can get the impression that the whole thing was just too much for the director.
Proven Broadway pattern
John Rando works with clichés and stereotypes, not with well thought-out characters or psychology. Many scenes and characters very much remind one of other musicals and their scenes / characters, but Rando doesn't quote or satirically imitates them, but instead tries to make Polanski's characters and Jim Steinman's music fit "proven Broadway patterns", according to the motto: "Just don't dare to try anything new". Choreographer John Carrafa stated, in an interview with "Show Music", that he wouldn't watch the original musical or even only a tape recording of it, because he didn't want to be influenced in his work. Strange, however, that he invented very similar steps and patterns then. Looking at the sparing, often only painted stage setting of the show, one has to wonder where all the money has gone - according to New York papers, the Broadway production cost twice as much as the original Vienna production.
Roman Polanski may, for the first time, have been glad that he can't easily travel to the US, since that way he didn't have to see the show. Jim Steinman also didn't attend the premiere. Michael Kunze tries to save what's still left of the original concept, by saying in interviews how it could happen that an aging Broadway star could mess up the whole thing so badly. The original authors just didn't want to or couldn't do anything against the fact that their piece is now being regarded as "Eurotrash bonanza", while at the same time another "cute nothing" like "Thoroughly Modern Millie" will become "musical of the year".
It's possible that the Americans generally don't like well-composed rock operas, and that they rather want some "light entertainment" these days. One thing is sure: After this failure, musicals from Europe probably won't easily be given a chance on Broadway in the future. But why then do we Europeans still accept Broadway as "state-of-the-art", instead of crating our own standards, focussing on originality and new ideas / concepts? Why do we take Broadway musicals to Europe without any changes, while entirely giving up our ideas when one of our musicals goes to the US? If the Dance Of The Vampires disaster is good for anything, then for us to become more independent from Broadway (West End has been doing whatever it wants to for quite some time, after all). The success in Vienna has demonstrated that it's entirely worth it.
And Vienna has demonstrated another thing: The know-how of European producers is in no way inferior to that of their Broadway fellows. After all, this small city of which nobody knows where it is anyway managed to get a better director, a better choreographer, a better orchestra and a better actor for the lead role. Additionally, the stage decoration looked better, the costumes were better, even the light and sound was better than in New York.