In JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR, the son of God is reborn as a rock star, and likewise, in Little 5 Points Rockstar Orchestra‘s HAUS VON DRACUL, PART 1, premiering this week at 7 Stages, as Rob Thompson struts confidently emoting on the power of blood, so is Count Dracula, the iconic vampire dark lord of fiction. And that’s just as it should be in a production that purports to resurrect the rock opera and translate its iconography into the horror genre. Thompson dominates the stage with his petulance, cockiness and powerful voice, Jim Morrison meets Ozzy redressed as Vlad the Impaler with a long dark mane, a Gothic red velvet vest so pointy it looks like it could cut you, and a cape shaped like bat wings that unfurl at key moments in the action.
That HAUS VON DRACUL, composed by Thompson and directed by 7 Stages artistic director Del Hamilton, hits all the right notes with the character of Dracula is gratifying and makes the production worth seeing on its own, but the gratifying surprise is Chris Love’s electrifying performance as Jonathan Harker. In most screen versions of the DRACULA story, Harker is a handsome but dull protagonist who gets the story going by delivering real estate papers for the count’s new property in England to Dracula’s castle and gets bitten by the vampire wives. He’s also the boyfriend of Mina, whom Dracula, once arrived in London, covets and seduces.
Love, who is black and has shaggy long hair, is already a daring choice for a role too often played close-cropped and straight-laced. But when, dressed dapperly in a brown Victorian frockcoat suit and top hat, his luggage his only tie to the sensible world he left behind in England, Love arrives on stages and declares in a moving opening solo that “a good man is a true man,” one can’t help but empathize with his dilemma as a stranger in a strange land, “all alone away from Mina.” Bram Stoker’s novel is written in the epistolary form and characters express their ebbing terror through diary entries and letters. HAUS VON DRACUL masterfully embraces that format, often taking lines directly from the book, and with Love’s passionate delivery, the audience becomes his only confidante. As his predicament gets progressively lonelier, Love’s Harker reminds that the vampire is evil and not to be embraced, progressively raising the stakes and easing the play towards a sense of doom with no hope and escape. In sum, the passion in his vocal delivery irrevocably places the audience in sympathy with the hero.
Supporting castmembers also fulfill their roles ably. The three sister-wives of Dracula (Naomi Lavender, Madeline Brumby, Madison Laughridge) lament their own frustrations being under Dracula’s domination and also exude the sexuality incarnate we expect of them, dressed in diaphanous white gowns with see-through bosoms that pay tribute to Hammer horror films. Lavender also delivers a mournful solo as a peasant girl warning Harker not to proceed on his journey. Rick Atkinson commands our attention as the coach driver who takes Harker on the first leg of his wild ride, amplified by racing projections on a large screen, but makes his strongest mark in the final scene as the captain of the ship on which Dracula travels to England, powerless as he “sails with the Devil.” And special kudos go to a team of extras who further the sense of dread as creepy peasant villagers (one wearing a very rock ‘n’ roll Viking helmet!), wolves that menace Harker’s carriage and Dracula’s servants. Every rock opera has to have a band, and while an audience talkback after the performance seemed undecided as to whether they should be more involved in the action, the Undertakers band definitely rocked!
Finally as may be no surprise with Shane Morton involved, the performance makes the most of its low budget. Morton designed and built the simple but ample Gothic set that one could also imagine appropriately on a heavy metal stage, as well as doing the make-up. I personally prefer more reliance on sets than projection, but a large screen behind was able to add some production values, my favorite of which was Dracula’s castle (created in miniature by Morton). More interpretative imagery of the count’s menacing face and other macabre shots further evoked a rock concert sensibility. If the rock horror make-up looks familiar to Silver Scream Spookshow fans, Morton also is responsible. Special kudos also have to go to DeeDee Chmieleski for her creative costume designs and choreography, especially for the wolf scene.
Considering that the actors only had two weeks of rehearsals and one solid dress rehearsal, Thursday’s opening night performance was remarkably polished, which only makes one even more filled with anticipation for HAUS VON DRACUL, PART 2, which will debut at 7 Stages next year. If PART 2 has the bite of PART 1, let’s hope that the road for HAUS VON DRACUL runs well beyond Atlanta.
HAUS VON DRACUL plays Friday Feb. 11 and Sat. Feb. 12 at 9 p.m., as well as Sun. Feb. 13 at 5 p.m. at 7 Stages in Little 5 Points. Tickets are $25, but if you purchase at the door, get $5 off by mentioning ATLRetro!