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Songs to Make Your Blood Curdle: A History of the Vampire Musical

As a rule, vampire musicals inexorably lead to financial and critical bloodbaths, but that doesn’t stop our entertainers from giving them a go, over and over again. As Elton John’s Anne Rice–derived Lestat premieres, it’s high time for a comparison of musicals that suck.

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CARMILLA: A VAMPIRE’S TALE
The Desecration
Ben Johnston and famed playwright-director Wilford Leach turned Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s 1872 novella about a female vampire into a multimedia opera, which debuted at La MaMa in 1970.

Lyrical Selections
Musical numbers include “A Saunter, Twilight,” “A Funeral Passed By,” and “A Mountebank, the Amulet.”

Subtle Visual Touches
Video projections were ahead of their time, and supporting characters popped out as wooden faces from within the couch the leads were sitting on.

Critical Bites
Newsday on a 1986 revival: “Like the serpentine arms that came out from that partly alive settee, the musical play reached out, wrapping its audience in an aura of mystery.”

Worldly Success
After its initial six-week run, Carmilla became a cult hit. La MaMa revived it (usually with the original performers) in 1972, 1976, 1986, and 2003.

POSSESSED: THE DRACULA MUSICAL
The Desecration
Bram Stoker’s classic transferred to modern England—Dracula’s slave Renfield is a mad rock musician, and his master ensnares him by posing as a record promoter.

Lyrical Selections
“Love sucks! / It drains out all your blood / Love sucks! / You better listen to me, bud / And leave it to the donkeys, the doggies and the ducks (quack! quack!).”

Subtle Visual Touches
Lots of miming, prancing, and chase scenes attempted to make up for the low budget and eighties synth stylings.

Critical Bites
Alvin Klein for the Times: “Perhaps there are no bad ideas for musicals, only bad musicals, like this one.”

Worldly Success
Opened and closed in a flash in December 1987, in Teaneck, New Jersey—but one song has become part of the Three Mo’ Tenors repertoire.

DANCE OF THE VAMPIRES
The Desecration
Meat Loaf songwriter Jim Steinman transformed Roman Polanski’s 1967 vampire spoof, The Fearless Vampire Killers, into a comic extravaganza. Originally written in German.

Lyrical Selections
“Garlic Garlic, when times are tough and grave / Garlic Garlic, it’s a remedy we crave.” (Plus, “Vampires in Love” is identical to “Total Eclipse of the Heart.”)

Subtle Visual Touches
A massive, stenciled-out evil vampire face framed the entryway toward the front of the stage.

Critical Bites
Charles Isherwood in Variety: “It’s not an outright comedy . . . but as a serious musical—well, it’s pretty damn funny.”

Worldly Success
Though the German version toured well in Europe, on Broadway the musical closed in just over a month in 2003—its $12 million loss making it one of the costliest theatrical failures in history.

DRACULA THE MUSICAL
The Desecration
In 2004, Frank Wildhorn (Jekyll & Hyde) finally got his fangs into Stoker’s classic story, laying on millions of dollars, nudity, and his regrettably unforgettable tunes.

Lyrical Selections
“Give me your mouth upon my mouth / Give me your skin to savor / Give me your breath upon my breast / Taste our immortal flavor.”

Subtle Visual Touches
Acres and acres of Victorian cloth—but the showstopper was the shedding of clothes by the two nubile leads, except during matinees, when school groups came in.

Critical Bites
Ben Brantley: “And here it is, looming like a giant stuffed bat on a stick, the easiest target on Broadway.”

Worldly Success
Lost only $7.5 million before shutting down within five months of its August 2004 Broadway opening.

BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER: ONCE MORE, WITH FEELING
The Desecration
Buffy creator and Sondheim buff Joss Whedon spruced up the show’s second-to-last season with an all-musical episode that put all of Broadway’s vampiric exertions to shame.

Lyrical Selections
“I can bring whole cities to ruin and still have time to get a soft-shoe in.” “Somethin’s cookin’, I’m at the griddle / I bought Nero his very first fiddle.”

Subtle Visual Touches
Fight choreography during the opening featured Buffy listlessly staking vampires through the heart while singing “Going through the motions.”

Critical Bites
The Vancouver Sun: “Brilliant—[an] emotionally stirring exercise in razzle-dazzle, and a welcome change of tone from Buffy’s usual ghoul train of demons and hellhounds.”

Worldly Success
The episode was nominated for an Emmy but didn’t win and didn’t stem a slow, fatal ratings slide either. But 150,000 copies of the episode’s soundtrack were sold.


LESTAT
The Desecration
Sir Elton John attacks Anne Rice—specifically, her Lestat novels—and plays up the gayness. It’s the Brokeback of vampire musicals.

Lyrical Selections
“Don’t chastise a child for acting like a child does / You ply me with these lifeless dolls when all I want is blood . . . I want more, I want more, I want more!”

Subtle Visual Touches
Every time blood is sucked, the music goes shrill amid a projection of quivering orange shapes, blood cells, and antique-doll faces, bringing to mind a Nine Inch Nails video.


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