By RICKY J. DUARTE
Starring Jordan Boatman, Arnie Burton and James Daly
Directed by Gordon Greenberg
Written by Steve Rosen and Gordon Greenberg
Few may be aware that before portraying the iconic monster in the 1931 Universal classic Dracula, star Bela Lugosi played the fanged fiend in 1927 on Broadway in his first English-speaking role. Bram Stoker’s groundbreaking story has been told on stage a number of times since, including a 1977 production starring Frank Langella and an ill-fated attempt at a musical adaptation by Frank Wildhorn. (Is there any other fate, when it comes to Wildhorn?) Now, haunting the wings of Off-Broadway’s New World Stages is a new take on the ultimate vampire tale, DRACULA! A COMEDY OF TERRORS.
The play, written by Gordon Greenberg and Steve Rosen, is an over-the-top comedic take on the classic vampire tale that borders on farce. Featuring a cast of five actors (four of whom portray multiple characters), the production boasts some impressive comedy, caricatured cockney accents (dialect coach Jerome Butler certainly had his work cut out for him on this one) and a handful of dizzying quick changes. The level of clowning displayed upon this stage deserves recognition, with one particular gag eliciting a mid-show standing ovation.
The play makes sensible changes to the source material’s plot in order to fit the tale into a 95-minute romp. However, not all of these alterations make sense. While one can forgive the playwrights for making Mina and Lucy sisters rather than friends, they’ve made the confounding decision to trade the places of said characters with no attempt to justify why, which does nothing to serve the narrative. In fact, if nothing else, the swap-out just confuses anyone who’s actually read the book or seen any version of the film. Here, it’s Lucy who’s engaged to wed Jonathan, while Mina becomes Dracula’s first victim.
The sisters, portrayed by Jordan Boatman and Arnie Burton are among the show’s strongest assets. Boatman’s Lucy perfectly captures the most ridiculous aspects of a Victorian ingenue in distress, while Burton’s Mina is theatrical clown work at its best as he portrays the homely, sex-starved Mina as an over-the-top second fiddle in drag. Burton, however, plays second fiddle to no one, as his masterful comedic timing undoubtedly elicits the play’s biggest laughs. The other main character he portrays should remain a surprise but is just as expertly crafted. (Though once Mina is bitten by The Count, her presence is notably missed.)
Andrew Keenan-Bolger primarily plays Jonathan Harker, Lucy’s lily-livered love interest, and does the bulk of carrying the play’s narrative. His lack of a spine is all at once pitiful and adorable, with an arc that’s easy and fun to root for. Ellen Harvey delivers a gender-bent portrayal of Mina and Lucy’s father, a Dr. Seward-esque role, as well as the crazed bug addict, Renfield. Her exchanges may be the most impressive in the play, showcasing a dizzying level of comedic energy.
As Dracula, James Daly is easy to swoon over. Comedically removing his skimpy, barely-there shirt within seconds of his grand, Grindr-profile-picturesque entrance, it’s easy to see why these characters would fall under his spell. Despite being the show’s namesake character, he has noticeably less stage time and feels underwritten compared with the rest of the cast. A running joke about him loving to bake never pays off, and all of his sympathetic dialogue is negated within his final moments. Because of this, it’s Daly’s swagger, charm, and biceps that carry the character through the play. Still, he pulls more than his fair share of comedic weight. While he does his best with what he’s given, little blame for the character’s shortcomings can be placed on Daly himself – aside from his coming-and-going Transylvanian accent.
Wrapped in neon bat wings, the stationary yet versatile set by Tijana Bjelajac (who also designed the show’s hilarious puppets) serves the play well, particularly when paired with Rob Denton’s lighting design. Costumes by Tristan Raines are hilarious when they need to be and sexy when they have to be.
In all, the play is a fun and silly romp through an abridged account of one of literature’s most memorable monsters. Despite the curious and seemingly pointless character swap of Lucy and Mina, it stays impressively true to the story as classically told and is sure to satisfy the thirst of any fan of the iconic horror novel as well as comedy-seeking theatergoers. It’s a perfect start to spooky season and a fun night at the theater.
DRACULA, A COMEDY OF TERRORS is playing at New World Stages and runs through January 7. Tickets are available here.