Oh, God, this one. One of the worst shows of the decade, Dracula made everyone genuinely nostalgic for Dance of the Vampires, which, for all its garish idiocy, at least had the virtue of being fun to watch. It was kind of a shock at the time that we got this from Frank Wildhorn, even to his loudest detractors. Wildhorn’s earlier work may have been unambitious, derivative and rather mindless, but one thing you could never call it is boring.
Dracula is boring. Boy howdy, is it boring. The book not only has an utterly uninspired take on the story (it’s basically a musical adaptation of the 1992 movie, with Dracula as a Phantom-esque romantic antihero), it also has some of the most prosaic dialogue in musical-theater history, with endless dispassionate conversations about everyday things that make you long for the overheated melodrama of Wildhorn’s usual work.
The characterization is arbitrary, with every change of heart announced rather than dramatized, and the gloomy romantic martyr portrayed in the title role drains everything out of the character of Dracula: he’s not evil, he’s not seductive, he’s not charismatic…he’s not even sexy.
Wildhorn’s score isn’t as awful as the book, but it lacks his usual energy and vitality, with only Dracula’s first act closer “Life After Life” and Harker’s anguished ballad “Before the Summer Ends” even approaching the campy excitement of his usual work. The rest of the songs aren’t tuneless…they have some pretty decent melodies at times…but they seem dull and colorless, the many generic ballads having even less variety than Linda Eder’s endless solos in Jekyll and Hyde.
And the cheesily prosaic lyrics don’t help. I don’t blame Don Black; his greatest strengths as a lyricist are character comedy and an ear for colloquial speech, so a deadly serious, utterly humorless show set in Victorian London probably isn’t exactly ideal material for him. Nonetheless, items like “The Master’s Song”, “How Do You Choose”, “If I Could Fly” (a ballad that sounds like Black had a little too much coffee before writing it), and the apparently-meant-to-be-a-comedy-number “Modern World” constitute possibly the weakest work Black has ever done (and I only say “possibly” because I’ve never heard the score to The Little Prince and the Aviator, another famously boring show Black worked on).
This show is a disgrace to everyone involved in it: Even if Wildhorn, Black and Christopher Hampton are not top-drawer talents, all of them are capable of much, much better than this.