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A CurtainUp Review
Lestat


The thirst I feel is coming on ---Lestat


Hugh Panaro
Hugh Panaro
(Photo: Paul Kolnik )
Every time we think we have finally seen the last vampire fly from the rafters and trod the boards, along comes another one to take its place. Well isn't that to be expected of the undead. The source for this latest and admirably earnest musical resurrection is Anne Rice's popular Vampire Chronicles, itself a veritable feast of bloodlust and sexual perversity. For starters, let's say that Lestat is far and away the best of the vampire musicals that includes such failed efforts as Dance of the Vampires and Dracula, the Musical.

Credit should go to Elton John for his ambitious, if not particularly memorable, musical score, the appropriately agitated and impassioned lyrics by Bernie Taupin and the simplified book that Linda Woolverton culled from Rice's convolutions. Theirs, however, is an earth-bound, seriously conflicted vampire who doesn't fly from the rafters or hail from Transylvania, so much the better. He is an 18th century French nobleman with a flair for life upon the wicked stage and a fondness for young men. Despite the overriding homoerotic aspects of this version, there are only subtle inferences and indications of sex and seduction.

Those faithful followers, devotees and adorers of the vampiric legends will be pleased to learn that the collaborators have chosen to avoid the use of camp or parody, except in the funny and eerie episode dealing with the Parisian Theater of the Vampires. Otherwise their vision of Lestat prompts us to empathize with his attempt to pursue his destiny. The story progresses through the decades and over continents but it is easy to follow. In their effort to keep the faith and not resort to a send-up of this formidable anti-hero, the musical, however, often seems to be straddling uneasily between these options.

Those most familiar with the story line, as derived from the two most popular of the Rice series, Inteview With the Vampire and The Vampire Lestat, will find on the stage of Palace Theater, a musical that takes a great risk at being dramatically baroque and mostly free of technical gadgetry. The special effects are there yet modest by today's production standards with the atmospherics largely extolling the artistry of lighting designer Kenneth Posner. My companion for the evening was not only a fan but a blood (no pun intended) relative who has performed as Count Dracula in a haunted castle for many years during the Halloween season. He was my source of authenticity. Who could ask for anything more?

The plot, in which characters tend to live by a song and then die with a scream, is tantalizing enough and kept on course by director Robert Jess Roth, with an able assist from Matt West's musical staging. West's most conspicuous contribution is "To Kill Your Kind," as bizarrely danced by a troupe of vampire thespians. The insatiable nocturnal adventuring of Lestat (Hugh Panaro), with his victims all responding to his attack in the same manner, does tend toward redundancy and beg the question: where do we go from here? New Orleans, that's where. For that we depend upon Dave McKean's "visual concept design" and Derek McLane's darkly Gothicized settings consisting of moving columns, slides and projections.

Press reports from out-of-town about songs, characters, scenes and performers being dropped and/or replaced indicated that there was plenty of work to do on this particular incarnation. What remains to be somewhat too vaguely considered is Lestat's sexual appetite. Unlike the hypnotic cloaked seducer who visited many a virginal maiden's boudoir, this Lestat is not so inclined. Perhaps it is we who hunger for a little nudity and a bit of gratuitous hanky panky.

Lestat is played with appropriately posturing aplomb by the tall, comely baritone Hugh Panaro. Shaking his long blond mane, he makes a dashing figure in costumer Susan Hilferty's period attire. Panaro, who made his Broadway debut as Marius in Les Miserables and is a veteran of The Phantom of the Opera. has a lot to sing about, which allows him to give his all to the score's best song, the soaring plea "Sail Me Away."

For those in need of a detailed plot summary: The story chronicles Lestat's wanderings and search for the godfather of the vampires in the hope of finding closure and redemption. The exposition, in which the young Lestat has a surreal battle with a pack of wolves, is impressively staged. And his subsequent decision to leave the home of his tyrannical abusive father and his ailing mother Gabrielle (Carolee Carmello),whom he adores serves nicely to set the stage for his wanderings. Lestat's subsequent encounter with an aging vampire from whom he inherits the curse of eternal life is climaxed with the vampire's self immolation in a blaze of fire and is very effective. Carmello, who has one of the best voices in the business, makes an impressive transformation as Lestat's here-today-gone- tomorrow consort. Lestat's theatrical career takes off in Paris where he gives his dying mother new life, if you can call it that. Lestat also rekindles his affection for his childhood friend Nicholas (Roderick Hill), who plays the violin at the theater. We know where things are going when he accepts the na´ve but infatuated Nicholas' hospitality and shares his single bed. Things liven up in New Orleans ("Welcome to the New World") where Lestat sets up housekeeping with Louis (Jim Stanek), a morose widower and Claudia (Allison Fischer), a 10 year-old waif consigned to live in perpetual childhood. Fisher's fiendish performance raises the stakes (no pun intended) with her tantrums and her powerhouse singing "I'll Never Have That Chance""and "I Want More. " Drew Sarich inspires chills as Lestat's nemesis Armand, as does Michael Genet, as the illusive vampire Marius.

That Lestat fails to engage us with his romantic side may be regrettable. But the seriously-intended musical in which he resides is far from regrettable and should attract and please those who want to experience (as the song says) "The Thirst."

The only second thought I can add to Simon's fair and comprehensive review is a suggestion for an alternate title: Around the World in Three Hundred Endless Years. Hats off to Carolee Carmello and Hugh Panaro for living up to the show must go on motto -- even when it means lending their vocal talents to Elton John and Bernie Taupin's bland and banal as Muzak arias. Audiences who, like the show's never aging Little Orphan Claudia, "want more" would be well-advised to curl up with a Bela Lugosi video. --- Elyse Sommer, 4/29/06.


LESTAT
Music by Elton John; lyrics by Bernie Taupin
Book by Linda Woolverton based on Ann Rice's Vampire Chronicles
Directed by Robert Jess Roth
Cast: Hugh Panaro, Carolee Carmello, Jim Stanke, Roderick Hill, Michael Genet, Allison Fischer, Rachel Coloff, Nikki Renee Daniels, Joseph Dellger, Colleen Fitzpatrick, Megan Reinking, Drew Sarich, Sarah Solie, Will Swenson, Steve Wilson, Tommar Wilson.
Set Design: Derek McLane
Costume Design: Susan Hilferty
Lighting Design: Kenneth Posner
Sound Design: Jonathan Deans
Wigs & Hair: Tom Watson
Music Director: Brad Haa
Music Coordinator: John Miller
Orchestra -- Conductor: Brad Haak Associate Conductor/Keyboard II: Andy Grobengieser Concertmaster: Martin Agee; Violins: Natalie Cenovia Cummins, Cecelia Hobbs Gardner; Viola: Maxine L. Roach; Celli: Stephanie L. Cummins, Chungsun Kim; Flute/Clarinet: Chuck Wilson; Oboe/English Horn: Lynne A. Cohen; French Horns: Chris Komer, Bradley C. Gemeinhardt: Trombone/Euphonium: Matt Ingman; Keyboard I: Jason DeBord; Keyboard III: Jose Simbulan; Guitars: Bruce Uchitel; Bass: Brian Hamm; Drums/ Percussion: Dave Ratajczak; Percussion/Assistant Conductor: Thad Wheeler.
Running time: 2 1/2 hours, including intermission
Palace, 1564 Broadway, (46th/47th St) 212-307-4100
From 3/11/06; opening 4//25/06
Tue at 7pm; Wed to Sat at 8pm; Wed, Sat at 2pm; Sun at 3pm.
Tickets: $65 to $100

Reviewed by Simon Saltzman based on April 20th press performance

Last performance May 28, 2006, after just 33preview and 39 regular performances.
Musical Numbers
Act One
  • From the Dead Beautiful Boy
  • In Paris The Thirst
  • Right Before My Eyes
  • Make Me As You Are
  • To Live Like This
  • Morality Play The Crimson Kiss
Act Two
  • Welcome to the New World
  • Embrace It
  • I Want More
  • I'll Never Have That Chance
  • Sail Me Away
  • To Kill Your Kind
  • Embrace It (Reprise)
  • After All This Time
  • Finale
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©Copyright 2006, Elyse Sommer.
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