Are Vampire Musicals Meant to Fail?

I know. I know this piece would have been more appropriate to post in October. An article on vampire musicals would have been prime content for Halloween, and it seems all the stranger to be writing this as we start moving into the winter holiday season, right? But recently, I saw some Broadway fans on Twitter discussing Dracula, the Musical, voicing how much the show was a guilty pleasure. “Is it bad? Yes. Do I still want it to be revived? Yes!” Reading this discussion brought me back to a niche topic that I, deep down, have always felt a bit strongly about, so that topic will have to take the forefront of my writing this week.

As any devoted Broadway fan knows, Dance of the Vampires is one of the most infamous flops in Broadway history. Having opened at the Minskoff Theatre on December 9, 2002, the show played a measly fifty-six performances before shuttering on January 25, 2003. The production surpassed Carrie in financial failure with its overall cost of over $12 million, making it one of the biggest disasters to have ever graced the stage.

It wouldn’t be long before two more shows revolving around vampires would try their luck at the Broadway stage: Dracula, the Musical lasted for just under four months in 2004-2005, and Lestat, a musical based on the first couple of books in Anne Rice’s The Vampire Chronicles series, lasted for two months in 2006. Hugh Panaro, the talented actor who took on the title role in Lestat, would later remark on his experience with the show, “Vampires and Broadway? They don’t mix.” Indeed, the fact that all three attempts at bringing a vampire-centric show to the Great White Way ended in colossal failure seems to point in that direction.

But is a vampire musical as a concept in and of itself box office poison, or is it just that maybe, Broadway hasn’t seen a good go at the idea yet?

While Dance of the Vampires was an embarrassment on Broadway, the show’s original Viennese production has played to countless loving fans around Europe, and it’s even found success in some parts of Asia, too. The difference there is that Dance’s original form, Tanz der Vampire, relies on bits of subtle humor mingled with romantic melodrama and gothic overtones, whereas Dance stripped away all of the dark and heavy goodness that made the Austrian show so deliciously vampiric. Where dramatic scenes featuring our lead vampire doing, you know, hot vampire things were removed, lame “dick” jokes were tossed into the script. Where a charming scene featuring our leading lady seductively tricking her new beau into letting her use the bath was taken out, a cringeworthy “sucked as dry as a mummy’s scrotum” line in regards to explaining how vampires drink blood was sloppily piled on. What was once a swirling megamusical about love and hunting vampires with hints of satire became a poor attempt to cash in on the success that made a comedy like The Producers so popular at the time. It would be like if you took the gothic romance of Phantom of the Opera and tried to turn it into a Mel Brooks movie, only without the funniness of Mel Brooks.

Unfortunately, Tanz der Vampire will likely never get another shot at Broadway thanks to the toxic reputation that surrounds its brand in the United States. I consider that a shame, because Dance could have easily been another Phantom of the Opera, and even if I doubt it would have reached the level of success that Phantom has (which, to be fair, is pretty near impossible for most shows, vampiric or no), it still could have appealed to the romantic melodrama-loving crowds of that fanbase and probably have even gotten an English-language cast recording and national tour. Regardless, I would argue that the reason this show failed so badly on Broadway wasn’t because it was about vampires, but because it suffered from a misguided production team.

Dracula is a bit like a reverse of Dance in that it started off with a mediocre reception on Broadway before moving on to be a hit in Europe. The show saw a massive facelift and changes to its score before opening in Switzerland and, after even more revisions, taking Austria by storm with its critically-acclaimed engagement in Graz. With new, rock-inspired orchestrations and a talented cast, this production managed to take the boring and uninspired mess that was the Broadway production and transform it into a fresh successor to Tanz. Since then, the show has played in other spots in Europe and enjoyed a moderate success, surely better than its morbid end on Broadway would have made us believe.

As for Lestat? Well, since Broadway, the show hasn’t been put on anywhere else, nor have I heard of any plans to give it another shot. Lestat, in my view, failed due to the fact that it was a jumbled and mixed bag that tried to fit too much at once. Instead of focusing on just one book, such as Interview With the Vampire, the script stuffed in too much from multiple books in order to be easy to follow, and as a result, the characters came out with little development or depth thanks to a lack of necessary stagetime. Combine that with the fact that the score just wasn’t very impressive, and you have a show that wasn’t meant for success from the start. Again, though, that is more fault with the show itself, not the fact that it features a vampire as its lead character.

If Europe has showed us anything, it’s that Broadway could get a good vampire musical if the right ingredients are brought in. We need another Phantom of the Opera, and vampires are dramatic, romantic, and theatrical enough to give megamusical theatre the over-the-top shenanigans it needs to thrive. Why not an adaptation of the classic novella Carmilla set against a Victorian backdrop of tall castles and bustling gowns, written with a symphonic metal score? It’s time for Americans to have a taste of what the Europeans are getting to enjoy.

(Photo: Dance of the Vampires on Broadway)