ATLRetro’s Haunted & Hellacious Halloween Guide 2016

Posted on: Oct 26th, 2016 By:

by Melanie Crew
Managing Editor

Calling all ghouls and gals! Come see why we think you should raise hell in ATLRetro this Halloween season!

1. Head Rolling Tunes! Get sinister All Hallows Eve weekend with a helluva lot of rancid rock ‘n roll! Rock out10.29StarBar ghoul-style at The Star Bar with Elzig (Elvis meets Danzig), The Crush and B.S.O.L. (Oct. 27)! Or celebrate 25 hellacious years with their 25th Anniversary Bash rocking out with Pretty Vacant (Sex Pistols tribute); Horror Business (Misfits tribute); and Nameless Nameless (Nirvana tribute) (Oct. 28)! And you must boogie on down during their 25th Anniversary Rock and Roll ‘70s Disco Party & Halloween Bash featuring The Biters (as The Disco Bitches), Dinos Boys, Bad Spell and Gunpowder Gray (Oct. 29)! Get horrorified at the Clermont Lounge  as Captain & Maybelle present a Halloween Shock ‘n’ Roll Sideshow featuring terrifying tunes by Fiend Without A Face, Kool Kats the Casket Creatures and special guest Reggie Bugmuncher (Oct. 27)! Or get rocked with Mac Sabbath and Black Juju at The Loft (Oct. 29)! The BadAsh Allstar Team hosts a Halloween Monster Jam at 5 Seasons Brewing (Oct. 29)! Get monstrous and go, go Godzilla on down to the Variety Playhouse for a night with the Blue Oyster Cult (10/29)! The Earl gets sinister and delivers a night of honkytonk rock ‘n ‘roll with their Halloween Party featuring The Goddamn Gallows, Gallows Bound, The Vaginas and Stump Tail Dolly (Oct. 31)!

2. Fangtastic Films!  Catch RiffTrax Live’s screening of Herk Harvey’s CARNIVAL OF SOULS (1962) at theatres across Atlanta at 8pm [Avalon Stadium 12 (Alpharetta); Perimeter Pointe 10; Hollywood Stadium 24 (Chamblee); AMC Barrett Commons 24 (Kennesaw); Regal McDonough Stadium 16 (McDonough); Carnival of SoulsCinemark Tinseltown 17 (Fayetteville); and Georgian Stadium 14 (Newnan)] (Oct. 27 & 31)! It’s a night of ectoplasmic proportions at Venkman’s with a free screening of Ivan Reitman’s GHOSTBUSTERS (1984) at 7pm (Oct. 27)! Or make your way to ASO Symphony Hall for a screening of Tim Burton’s THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS (1993) with a live performance of the award-winning soundtrack by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra at 8pm (Oct. 28)! Venkman’s dishes out a Cartoon Brunch featuring a screening of Tim Burton’s THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS (1993) (Oct. 29)! Or spend the evening with Vincent Price with a screening of Andre DeToth’s HOUSE OF WAX (1953) at The Plaza Theater, running Oct. 28 through Oct. 29! And don’t forget to Time-Warp it up with some uber musically-inclined transsexual aliens at as they continue their tradition of screening THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW (1975), featuring the live cast of Lips Down on Dixie at midnight, with special Halloween treats (Oct. 28-29)! Get bewitched with a screening of Kenny Ortega’s HOCUS POCUS (1993) at dusk at Atlantic Station during their “Spooky Film Fest” (Oct. 28)! Videodrome and JavaVino (JavaDrome) present another rare treat with a screening of David A. Prior’s SLEDGEHAMMER (1983) at 8:30pm (Oct. 28)! Get twisted with Kool Kats, The Hess Family with a complimentary screening of Horror Hotel Season 2’s “LIFE AFTER MEN” at Studio Movie Grill in Alpharetta from 6pm to 12am (Oct. 27)!

3. Dance with the Dead and BOOgie down!  It’s Halloween hysteria at Avondale Towne Cinema during Kool Kat Shane Morton, a.k.a. ghost host with the most, Prof. Morte’s Monsters of Mock Dance Party featuring Stephen Skipper’s Rolling Stones Tribute, Van Heineken and OC/DC at 8pm (Oct. 28)! Or rattle 10.28Avondaleyour bones during Fernbank Museum of Natural History’s Martinis and IMAX’s Fright Night Halloween Party, dripping with devilish drinks, costume contests and more (Oct. 28)! Spook on down to The Beacon’s Halloween Haunted House Warming Party featuring a haunted house, costume contest, food trucks and rockin’ tunes with Smithsonian (Smiths tribute), Anna Kramer & The Lost Cause and the Rock*A*Teens (Oct. 29)! Make your way to The Howard House in Kirkwood for the 11th Annual Scarendipity Halloween Bash featuring Voodoo Visionary, Mayhayley’s Grave and so much more (Oct. 29)! Rock on down to the Masquerade for their 6th Annual Boos & Brews Halloween Party (Oct. 29)! Make your way to Club Famous for Coffin Classics Halloween: Goth, Darkwave, Industrial with Kool Kat VJ Anthony (Oct. 29)! Grab your favorite boil or ghoul and rock on down to the Red Light Café’s Halloween Prom featuring Roadkill Debutante, Burning Truck and Till Someone Loses an Eye (Kool Kat Aileen Loy) (Oct. 30)! Radio Cult dishes out a “Japanese-Anime” themed Halloween bash at Deep South Deli & Pub (Oct. 28)! Get your ghouls, goblins and ghosts fix at Skyline Park ATL’s Haunted Heights Halloween Bash featuring acrobatics, THRILLER zombies, live DJ, themed cocktails, midway games and more from 8pm-12am (Oct. 29)! Boogie down to Opera Nightclub for their Atlanta Horror Story Halloween Spectacular, featuring costume contests, special drinks, prizes and more (Oct. 29)! Do the Monster Mash at the Euclid Avenue Yacht Club’s annual Halloween Dance Party (Oct. 29)!

4. Gothic & Ghastly.  DJ Silkwolf and DJ Merlot will drag you to Hell at Mary’s during their Goth Nite Printfeaturing death rock, post punk, goth anthems and more at 9pm (Oct. 27)! The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra gets phantasmal with their Phantom of the Orchestra event at 3pm (Oct. 30)! Haunt on down to the Historic Oakland Cemetery for their annual hour-long Capturing the Spirit of Oakland 2015 Ghost Tours, featuring music, a fortune teller and more! Come on out and tiptoe through the graves, make a few new spirited friends and hear the hallowed tales of some of their eternal residents, running from 5:30pm to 10:30pm, through Oct. 30! Or spook on down to the Fox Theatre as they get haunted during their annual Fox Theatre Ghost Tours, chilling your bones through Oct. 30!

5. Horrifying Hikes ‘n’ Haunts.  Nightmares are what this season’s9.23 all about! So, spook on down to Netherworld Haunted House in Norcross and spook it up through Nov. 1 (7:30pm-10:30pm week days; 7pm-midnight weekends)! Get terrified at Sinister Suites Hotel of Horror in Griffin, GA, spooking through Oct. 31! A little blood splatter never hurt ya, so trek on down to Carrolton, GA for a helluva lot of haunted hillbillies ‘n’ dead rednecks at Camp Blood, horrifying through Oct. 31! Put on your horrorific hiking boots and make your way to the Dolls Head Danse Macabre Halloween Hike at Constitution Lakes, hosted by The Georgia Conservancy from 7-11pm (Oct. 30)!

6. Thrilling and Chilling Theatrics, Art ‘n’ Parades.  Creep on down to The B Complex for the Art Exhibition and Performance sleepy hollowReception for “Will You Be My Nightmare” at 6:30pm (Oct. 27)! Or wake the dead at the Michael C. Carlos Museum’s Mummies & Mixers event featuring music, costumes, as classic Boris Karloff film and more from 7-9pm (Oct. 27)! Be the Headless Horseman’s next victim and get your bones chilled at Serenbe Playhouse’s thrilling presentation of their immersive spooky attraction and show, THE SLEEPY HOLLOW EXPERIENCE, haunting through Nov. 6 (Wed-Sun at 8pm; Fri-Sat at 10:30pm)! It’s a night of murderous clowns and gut splitting laughter as 1Up Comedy presents the Roast of Pennywise the Clown/Stephen King’s IT at the Highland Inn Ballroom Lounge (Oct. 27)! Spook on down to the Buford Highway Halloween Parade and Pop-Up, from 5-8pm (Oct. 29) Make your way to the Atlanta History Center for the Day of the Dead Festival featuring traditional dance, crafts, authentic Mexican food and more (Oct. 30)! Terminus City Tattoo (Duluth) delivers a day full of tricks, treats and tattoos with their 2016 Halloween Bash featuring $50 Halloween tattoos (12-7pm), followed by a killer bash kickin’ off at 8pm, with a costume contest and more (Oct. 29)! Or catch “The Ghastly Dreadfuls” spooking it up with creepy stories, frightful songs and devilish dances at the Center for Puppetry Arts, haunting through Oct. 29!10.27Clermont

7. Tricks, Treats & A Witchin’ Good Time! Cast a spell and make your way to the Mable House Arts Center’s Hogwarts Halloween at 6pm and 8pm (Oct. 28)! Spook on down to Callanwolde Fine Arts Center for their “Halloween Night on Callanwolde Mountain” family-friendly party featuring trick-or-treating, live music with the Callanwolde Concert Band featuring Matthew Kaminski, costume contests and more (Oct. 28)! Maniacal laughter ensues during The Village Theatre’s Halloween Improv House Party featuring an improvised Salem Witch Trial and more (Oct. 29)! Spook on down to the Ponce City Market for their A Haunting on Ponce: Eat, Drink and Be Scary, horrifying through Oct. 31!

8. Decaying Eighties.  Eighties it up at Venkman’s with a Totally ‘80s Costume 10.29TerminalParty featuring Members Only (Oct. 27)! Get strange at Criminal Records during their “Stranger Things: Vol. 1 Soundtrack” Listening Party with special guest Randall P. Havens (Mr. Clarke), a costume contest and more at 7pm (Oct. 28)! BOOgie on down to The Music Room for DJ Jaycee’s Edgewood “Thriller” Michael Jackson Tribute and costume party (Oct. 28)! ATL Collective delivers an evening of rotting flesh as they raise the dead with their performance of Michael Jackson’s Halloween classic, “Thriller” at Terminal West (10/29)! Kool 10.29BasementKat Becky Cormier Finch and Denim Arcade deliver a rockin’ ‘80s Halloween Party, featuring a costume contest, a “Thriller” dance class and more at the Wild Wing Café in Suwannee (Oct. 29)!

9. Get Funky and Groove Like a Ghoul!  Put on those dancin’ shoes groove like a ghoul at The Basement as they get down with forty thousand years of funk during their Keep on Movin’ Halloween Dance Party (10/29)! Get terrified from beyond the grave with Here Come the Mummies at City Winery (Oct. 31)!

 

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From Robert Mitchum to The Fab Four: A Guide to Going Retro at the Atlanta Film Festival

Posted on: Mar 15th, 2013 By:

By Andrew Kemp
Contributing Writer

The wait is over as the Atlanta Film Festival returns to screens today, kicking off 10 days of programming (March 15-24, 2013) for all the cinema junkies who need a fix (or merely a break from the cold wasteland known as March at the multiplex). As per usual, the festival is overflowing with content from new feature films, documentaries and shorts to seminars on the business and craft of filmmaking, and meet-and-greets around town. If you’re reading this, the safe money says that you’re looking for retro options, and as the title up there suggests, we’re here to oblige.  Here’s a quick guide to what’s retro at AFF this year, which by the way is headquartered at the historic Plaza Theatre.

Let’s start with the true retro bits of cinema history. The AFF is an Oscar-qualifying festival, so it caters primarily to new films, but a retro gem occasionally makes it onto the schedule. This year, you can get your fix at a must-see screening of THUNDER ROAD (1958). This Robert Mitchum moonshine exploitation flick is a ridiculously fun and culty movie, and it’s playing in its natural habitat at the Starlight Drive-In on Thursday, March 21 at 8:45 pm. There will likely be plenty of audience participation at the screening, and the same can be said of the THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW (1975), playing at two midnight shows on consecutive Fridays, March 15 and 22 at its home turf of the Plaza Atlanta, featuring the usual antics of the Lips Down on Dixie crowd.

The Plaza is also hosting an unusual new film with a connection to an odd relic of the early 80s. William Friedkin’s  CRUISING (1980) is something of an embarrassment today, a movie that purports to take a serious look at gay culture but winds up taking several ugly steps in the wrong direction. The cut released in theaters is bad enough, but rumors linger of a much-longer version containing 40  minutes of explicit gay sex and S&M material that would have taken the film to an X rating. The footage is lost, but actor and professional-insubordinate James Franco is teaming with director Travis Mathews to imagine that missing material and explore the nature of filming controversial, or even blatantly harmful, art in INTERIOR. LEATHER BAR, a piece of “docufiction” playing at the Plaza’s upstairs screen on March 21 at 9:15 pm, or directly opposite the THUNDER ROAD screening, so some choices are going to have to be made.

If you’re interested in new films with a retro angle, you’ll want to look out for the Australian film THE SAPPHIRES, an adaptation of a play (itself based on a true story) about a group of Australian indigenous women who become a singing group for the troops in Vietnam only a year after a referendum expanded indigenous rights. The film stars Chris O’Dowd, the funny cop from BRIDESMAIDS (2012), as the group’s manager and has a fairly awesome late-‘60s style soundtrack that’s already found a lot of success in its home country. THE SAPPHIRES is playing the Plaza’s upstairs screen on Sunday, March 17, at 6:00 pm. Moving forward a decade, the new Canadian film BECOMING REDWOOD orbits around a young boy in 1975 who decides to beat Jack Nicklaus at golf as a play to get his parents back together. The quirky dramedy was a big hit at the Vancouver International Film Festival, and  makes its Atlanta debut at 7 Stages on Saturday, March 16, at 2:45 pm.

If you’re into documentaries, consider OUR NIXON, a new doc assembled from an astonishing find of home movies shot by some of President Nixon’s closest aides, like H.R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman. The FBI seized the Super 8 films as part of its investigation into Watergate, and they’re only now being seen by a public that long ago closed that chapter of American history. The footage is incredibly intimate and personal, showing a side of Nixon that’s literally never been seen before on film until now. OUR NIXON plays at 7 Stages on March 21 at 8:30 pm. For a hustler of a different variety, ICEBERG SLIM: PORTRAIT OF A PIMP presents a comprehensive look at the late pimp and author who helped illuminate a shadowy profession and redefine urban style and culture for a generation of young men. The Hughes Brothers once tried to mount an adaptation of Slim’s novel PIMP:THE STORY OF MY LIFE, but the project fell apart. Now producer Ice-T and his longtime manager Jorge Hinojosa bring Slim’s story to the screen. It arrives on Tuesday, March 19, at 7:15 on the Plaza’s main screen.

If you’re familiar with writer and all-around-badass George Plimpton, you know that his resume reads like one of those Most Interesting Man in the World commercials, which makes PLIMPTON! STARRING GEORGE PLIMPTON AS HIMSELF the world’s ballsiest documentary for attempting to fit the story of his life into a mere 86 minutes. They’ll give it a shot on March 23 at 10:45 am at the Plaza. Film nuts will also want to keep an eye out for CASTING BY, a new documentary about the hidden world of casting directors, and how some of the legends in the field helped to shape the film renaissance of the ‘60s and ‘70s. The doc unspools at the Plaza on March 20 at 7:00 pm.

Music lovers will want to look out for two documentaries that shed some light on a couple of major figures. GOOD OL’ FREDA tells the story of Freda Kelly, a girl who started working for a local band and then spent a decade as The Beatles’ fan club secretary” as they became the world’s biggest band. GOOD OL’ FREDA, a film that began life as a successful Kickstarter project, plays at 9:15 pm on March 16 at Druid Hills Baptist Church. Meanwhile, SCARRED BUT SMARTER tracks the career and roots of Atlanta indie rock band Drivin’ N Cryin’ with two screenings at the Plaza’s main screen on Friday, March 22 at 8:00 pm and Sunday, March 24 at 6:30 pm. There’s also an after-screening party happening at the Highland Ballroom, although AFF’s website isn’t clear about whether or not party access is covered in the cost of your movie ticket. Stay tuned.

There’s plenty more happening at the festival, so for further information and scheduling, definitely take a spin on the AFF’s official website. Frankly, it’s exciting to see the AFF fully embrace the city’s many retro venues this year. The Plaza has had a strong relationship with the festival, but 7 Stages, Goat Farm Arts Center and the Starlight are all a part now, making the fest feel even more closely tied to the pulse of the city and its growing film community. ATLRetro will be present at a bunch of screenings, so keep an eye out and introduce yourself! We’d love to hear from you. See you on the other side!

Andrew Kemp is a screenwriter and game writer who started talking about movies in 1984 and got stuck that way. He writes at www.thehollywoodprojects.com and hosts a bimonthly screening series of classic films at theaters around Atlanta.

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Just a Jump to the Left of The Plaza, Let’s Do Beer and Burgers at The Righteous Room Again

Posted on: Jan 16th, 2013 By:

Photo credit: Rachel Marshall

By Rachel Marshall
Contributing Writer

“We don’t really have a manager,” Rebecca the bartender said, offering a silly, sly, unapologetic grin. See, I had asked if I could speak to a manager about their experiences within a bar called The Righteous Room.  That moment when it becomes clear that the inmates run the asylum is the moment you realize, as someone who just wants a good drink and a good bite to eat, you’ve come to the right place.

The Righteous Room is located on Ponce De Leon Ave., right next to the glorious gloom and clattering 35mm projectors of The Plaza Theatre, which to me has never been crowned just by a glorious marquis, but by the parted lips of an old ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW poster. So, let that be your landmark. Just a jump to the left of a theatre in a perpetual state of doing the Time Warp again, The Righteous Room has been intriguing newcomers and keeping regulars hooked for about 17 years.

You are, essentially, entering a dive bar. Rugged brick and exposed vents bathe in the mingling hues of electric yellow chandeliers and blue Christmas lights that framework dusty chalkboards displaying the latest beer specials. Purchasable works of local artists adorn the walls, and the bathrooms need no decoration, only the whims of drunken occupants armed with Sharpies and wits hopped up on shots. Similar whims will often pump quarters and dollars into a nearby jukebox in a bid to hear that one perfect song before they either wander off into the Atlanta night, or trudge into The Plaza (a step to the right).

Photo credit: Rachel Marshall

So, I settled in for a drink and a meal. What’s great about the service at The Righteous Room is there is very little pomp or circumstance when it comes to service, and frankly, in a dive, that’s all I want. I want someone with metal piercing their faces and ink intricacy staining their arms to hand me a frosty beverage and a juicy burger. No flourish, no stage-show, just a grin that says: “This will mess you up. See you on the other side!”

I enjoyed a Mamma’s Lil Yella Pils and a New Belgium “Snow Day” under the gaze of a local artist’s portrait of Mardi Gras. In time, a pulled pork sandwich arrived between two gargantuan slices of grilled bread. With house-made horseradish sauce at my side, I tore into my meal without hesitation.

That’s right. House-made. With a couple of exceptions here and there, everything is made within The Righteous Room. Not only that, but if you’re not as carnivorous as me and prefer the leafier side of things, The Righteous Room has a menu that flatters the herbivores out there. The peppery whisper of dandelion greens within a fresh salad, the cool, creamy indulgence of hummus and a fire-good veggie chili are just a few things on the menu that will cater to those of you that aren’t meat-feeders like me.

Photo credit: Rachel Marshall

So, sure, these dishes may help keep you on your feet after that third or fourth shot, but before those kick in, it dawns on you; this is not your typical dive. Rebecca approaches to see how the meal is going, and soon we’re talking about the heart of the bar. Behind the scenes, the owners work close with the staff. Everyone is interested in each other’s goals, and seeing what everyone can bring to the table. Literally! The owners love meeting with their staff for open forums on the industry and what shapes not only their company, but their own experiences. This approach doesn’t just mean a restaurant or a bar does well, it resonates.

Yes, even if it’s just a small bar next to a movie theater.

Photo credit: Rachel Marshall

Overall, The Righteous Room is an excellent meet-up before and after Plaza viewings. Frankly, it’s a good hang-out even if you aren’t taking in a movie. Now, if you’re looking for a fast bite and some quick table turnover, The Righteous Room may not be for you. No, this is where you go to hang-out, unwind, get messed up and really touch base with friends and regulars before moving on with the rest of your evening plans. The chefs take their time with your meal, devoting a lot of attention and care to the plating and the flavor. Don’t get restless, just order yourself a drink! The bartenders and servers are attentive, quick and efficient with potent, cool drinks. Stick around long enough, come back enough and before you know it, you’ll feel like a regular on CHEERS where everybody knows your name.

Check out The Righteous Room on 1051 Ponce De Leon Ave., N.E., Atlanta, GA 30306. 

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Kool Kat of the Week/Retro Review: Sex, Blood and Rock n Roll: Jesus Christ Superstar meets Grand Guignol in Not-To-Be-Missed Dracula The Rock Opera

Posted on: Oct 12th, 2012 By:

Dracula and his wives in DRACULA THE ROCK OPERA at 7 Stages; L-R: Jessika Cutts, Rob Thompson, Naomi Lavender, Madeline Brumby.

In this Week’s Kool Kat, we break the rules and give it to more than one person – those crazy kids in the Little Five Points Rock Star Orchestra.  Don’t miss DRACULA THE ROCK OPERA before it closes this Sunday, October 14 at 7 Stages. 

DRACULA THE ROCK OPERA melds JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR with Grand Guignol in a production that not only rocks hard and delivers a horrific, non-twinkly Nosferatu, but also is surprisingly true to Bram Stoker‘s original novel. Not to be missed, this DRACULA brings the rock opera genre into the 21st century with the energy, musical, acting and staging quality of an off-Broadway find. Seeing it is like discovering HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY ITCH in 1998 or THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW in a tiny upstairs theater in London in 1973. But hey, wait a second, this is Atlanta’s 7 Stages Theatre, not New York, not London, not even LA or Chicago. And it’s not Rob Zombie, but Rob Thompson. How the HELL did that happen?

The short answer is years of hard work by the Little Five Points Rock Star Orchestra, a motley crew of badass tattoo-covered Atlanta musicians, stage professionals and grassroots performance artists whom you haven’t heard of most likely unless you live here. If you don’t live in Atlanta, you probably won’t believe this gang of music misfits, most with ultra-light theater experience, has produced a libretto, lyrics, acting and staging that set DRACULA THE ROCK OPERA tooth and claw above community theater.Maybe you’ll be more convinced when I point out that they did have the benefit of Del Hamilton, a seasoned internationally acclaimed director, to guide them. DRACULA will be the last of 80 shows which he has directed before he steps down as artistic director of 7 Stages, building with Faye Allen, a reputation for this company as one of Atlanta’s most edgy. It’s a testament to Hamilton’s vision that he was willing to take on a venture in the pop culture/horror arena as his swan song (though he will continue to stay active in 7 Stages). Clearly Hamilton drove the cast and production crew to their highest potential, ably assisted by longtime Atlanta actor Justin Wellborn, who returned from Los Angeles to work on DRACULA.

Harker (Chris Love) receives a dire warning from a gypsy woman (Naomi Lavender).

In JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR, the son of God is reborn as a rock star, and so likewise is the iconic vampire dark lord of fiction as Rob Thompson emerges on stage, dressed as Vlad the Impaler with a long dark mane, a Gothic red velvet vest so pointy it looks like it could cut you, and tight black leather pants. At first he is bending his fingers and arching his back, creating a shadow image creepily reminiscent of Max Schreck in the iconic silent NOSFERATU (1922). But soon recharged by the promise of a new feeding ground in England, he is re-uniformed in a blood-red cape, red and black boot chaps and a sword. With his petulance, cockiness and powerful voice, Jim Morrison meets Ozzy as Thompson emotes on the power of blood to a heavy beat right out of Black Sabbath.  This Count is no romantic sparkly vampire, but a black metal superstar of evil whose immortality is dependent on the death of humanity.

When ATLRetro reviewed the first act, then titled HAUS VON DRACUL, during a trial run last year, we called that review “Dracula Superstar but Love is the Answer.” That tagline still holds true in that DRACULA THE ROCK OPERA is unique among Dracula dramatizations for having a strong/non-wimpy rendition of Jonathan Harker in the transcendent voice and passionate mannerisms of African-American actor/musician Chris Love. With a lion’s mane of long black hair, Love is already a daring visual choice for a role too often played close-cropped and straight-laced. Now Thompson has caught up with Love, but Love, as Harker, continues to embody the everyman (us by proxy) as he arrives on stages and declares in a moving opening solo that “a good man is a true man”  and later a stranger in a strange land, “all alone away from Mina.” Bram Stoker’s novel is written in the epistolary form with characters expressing their ebbing terror through diary entries and letters, and this rock opera masterfully embraces that format, often taking lines directly from the book and making the audience a confidante. In Love’s hands, Harker’s predicament gets progressively lonelier, reminds us that the vampire is evil and not to be embraced, progressively raising the stakes and easing the first act towards a sense of doom with no hope and escape.

Van Helsing (Jeff Langston, center) and Lucy's three suitors, Quincey (Shane Morton), Seward (Chaz Pofahl) and Arthur (Jed Drummond) make a "vein" attempt to save Lucy's (Jessika Cutts) life with blood transfusions.

Beyond Dracula’s tight leather pants, the “sex” side of rock n roll comes center stage early in Harker’s seduction by Dracula’s three wives, played to a perfect sirenic pitch by Muleskinner MacQueen Trio chanteuse Naomi Lavender (who also plays a gypsy woman and Mina), Madeline Brumby (known in the neo-exploitation movie world for her breakout role in also-Atlanta-produced DEAR GOD! NO!) and Jessika Cutts (who also plays Lucy). Their breasts show through white diaphanous robes, a clear homage to the sexy female vampires of Universal, Hammer and the lesbian vampire B-movie genre, and this production ups their otherworldly quality by adding exotic Eastern European headpieces and dance moves reminiscent of a Kali ritual. The actresses achieve a chemistry in their ethereal voices and interplay that only heightens the erotic tension and also their profound loneliness, trapped in the castle with the Count.

The first act showcases how to effectively use minimalist sets, lighting and an ensemble cast. No coach is needed with just Harker sitting vulnerably on steps while a mad driver thrashes a long whip, a small herd of humans outfitted in haphazard fur pelts furiously keeping pace to a metal beat. Less is more is also well-executed in the similarly soundtracked (the beat always gets heavy when Dracula is at his most bloodthirsty) ship scene conveying the hopelessness of the captain (Rick Atkinson) trying in vain (vein?) to keep his ship afloat in a stormy sea while the Count devours his crew in one of the play’s bloodiest scenes (watch out, front row!).

Van Helsing (Jeff Langston), Vampire Slayer!

DRACULA THE ROCK OPERA has to introduce a lot of new characters rapidly in the second act, and this task is mostly achieved well, including characters who appear in the book but often excluded from screen and stage. In a poppy update of Cole Porter’s “Tom, Dick and Harry” from KISS ME KATE, Lucy (Jessika Cutts) enthusiastically emotes to her best friend Mina (Naomi Lavendar) about her three suitors, earnest, bowler-hat-wearing Arthur (musician Jed Drummond in his stage debut); Dr. Seward (Charlotte, NC-based actor Chaz Pofahl), who runs the asylum (how romantic!); and Quincey, an American cowboy played with appropriate “home-on-the-range” swagger and just the right nod of humor by Atlanta horror Renaissance man-about-town Shane Morton (Professor Morte of the Silver Scream Spookshow, DEAR GOD! NO!, Gargantua, etc.) against type – in other words, more country than rock (Note: because of Shane also being the mastermind of the Atlanta Zombie Apocalypse, Arnie Lowder is now playing this role Thurs-Sat for the last few weeks of the run).

We already have a sense of Mina from Harker’s songs about her. Like in so many Dracula dramatizations, she could be just a romantic foil and vampire victim but fortunately Lavender’s unique voice – Kate Bush meets Janis Joplin, with a twist of Jane Wiedlin?! – and sheer dynamic energy forestall that possibility, ultimately ensuring she will be an equal to the otherwise male vampire-hunting team. Renfield’s crazed obsessiveness with Dracula is portrayed with a manic frenzy and an appropriately metalhead of frizzy curly hair in a breakout performance by Rick Atkinson, who has been with the L5P Rockstar Orchestra since its first production of JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR in the mid 2000s.

Meanwhile, Dracula in London is more of an omnipresent villain, now re-energized by a city full of fresh blood into full throttle rock star and re-attired in a black leather jacket (think actual suit jacket – Steve Tyler, not Sid Vicious). Fortunately Thompson and company recognize that he needs a similarly rocked-out foil not a dawdling elderly professor. Not your mama’s Van Helsing, this vampire hunter in purple is Doctor Strange meets Freddie Mercury. Jeff Langston, of hard-rocking Atlanta-based bands Ledfoot Messiah and AM Gold,  is just the hard-edged leader to unite Lucy’s triad of suitors to try and save first her life (no, they don’t succeed despite a steampunky transfusion gizmo) and then Mina’s as the Count makes them his inevitable victims. Ultimately, the intrepid group must travel all the way back to Transylvania to finish the battle, and as for the end, if you’ve read the book, well, you know it. And if you haven’t, you may well be surprised.

Rob Thompson as Count Dracula/Vlad the Impaler.

Ultimately that DRACULA THE ROCK OPERA is bound and determined to be tightly faithful to Stoker’s novel is both its strength and an occasional weakness, however, because occasionally that fealty causes some dramatic challenges. For example, after act one, it seems impossible when Mina receives a letter from Jonathan Harker that he has somehow escaped Castle Dracula. (Maybe a side performance showing Harker escape in pantomime might clarify?). Another scene that felt like it needed a little more work was a city scene in which Harker spies the Count for the first time in London stalking female victims. But these really are only small complaints in what overall is a fantastic production. Let’s hope for an encore soon and more runs well beyond Atlanta.

All photos courtesy of 7 Stages and DRACULA THE ROCK OPERA and used with permission.

 

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