Sunday, January 22, 2006

ELTON'S LESTAT FALLS FLAT

Anne Rice has been so wrapped up in writing her books about Jesus that she seems to have let the quality control on her Vampire empire go out the window, allowing Elton John and Bernie Taupin to turn The Vampire Chronices into a musical. It's opened in San Francisco, and it sounds like it might need some work before it gets to Broadway. Indeed, it sounds like the light of day might be as bad for the show as it would be for the characters.

The San Francisco Chronicle's Robert Hurwitt called for the garlic: Didactic, disjointed, oddly miscast, confusingly designed and floundering in an almost unrelentingly saccharine score by Elton John, "Lestat" opened Sunday as the latest ill-conceived Broadway hopeful in the Best of Broadway series.

Did the SF Examiner like it any more? Not much, Tiger Hashimoto reports: "After Lestat is “made” as a vampire (without any warning or motivation), he mostly kills men in grisly, on-stage murders that had me cowering and wincing — and I’m a martial arts fan... Claudia epitomizes what is wrong with this show dramatically and morally. At first she appears as an innocent blond twinkee. Then she sings a foul song about blood called “I Want More.” Just as you think this over-the-top raunch is good for the plot, Claudia switches to a saccharine ballad, “I’ll Never Have That Chance,” about how being a vampire precludes walking down the aisle and having babies."

Inside Bay Area's Chad Jones sees a slight glimmer of hope, though. Only a slight one, mind, although the idea of killing the whole thing to see it reborn might have some vampiric appeal: "The biggest problem in director Robert Jess Roth's jumble of a production— and the one that isn't likely to change anytime soon — is the score. John's music borrows heavily from "Les Miserables," "Phantom of the Opera" and "Jekyll and Hyde" to create a pop-classical hybrid that is rarely less than dreary and often devoid of pleasurable melody.

Taupin's lyrics are labored, overly complicated and seem to rhyme only when convenient. Simplification is the order of the day from beginning to end.

First on the list to cut should be "The Origin of the Species," a confusing production number that attempts to explain the history of vampires. And the song "To Kill Your Kind," which features pseudo-choreography straight out of Michael Jackson's "Thriller" video, is unintentionally hilarious.

There are only four times when the score breaks through its ponderous lumbering, and in a nearly three-hour show, that's not enough."


Does nobody have a kind word? Karen D'Souza of the San Jose Mercury at least isn't totally repulsed by the saccharine: The score is likewise bland, a collection of same-sounding, easy-listening anthems that should please Sir Elton fans (they'll especially like ``Sail Me Away'') but that do little to move the story forward or give us any insight to the characters. "Welcome to the New World'' is so chirpy it's jarring. The choreography in the To Kill Your Kind number feels vaguely reminiscent of Michael Jackson's Thriller video with its twitching ghoulies.

Only rarely, as in the child Claudia's songs, does the musical hit a vein. I Want More mixes shades of comedy and horror with a macabre zest the show mostly lacks, and I'll Never Have that Chance strikes a genuinely touching chord.


So, not everybody is rushing for the vomatorium all the time, and at least John restrained himself from throwing Candle in the Wind into the mix.

And, to be fair, Lee Hartgrave of BeyondChron describes the experience as "visually rich", although a musical where you come out whistling the back projections still sounds mainly flawed to us - "As for the music by Elton John – it is O.K, but not great", reckons Hartgrave.

For Backstage, Jean Schiffman also warms up a little - praising the "fitting" decision to open it in San Francisco, which is good news if the Tonys have a category for Best Itinerary; but even she can't find anything much to make the prospect of an original cast recording sound like a good idea: "[a]nd while Taupin's lyrics range from overblown to gratifyingly sharp, John's compositions mostly sound alike, are generally slow-paced, and fit into a generic musical-theatre mold. How wrong this seems for a story about blood, eroticism, and the macabre!"

The show is Warners (not anything to do with the label anymore, of course) first attempt to try and get some of the Disney action, staging not-very-good musicals that rely on spectacle and familiar characters to make up for the lack of quality on stage. Warner Theatre Ventures' Greeg Maday told the New York Times he was learning from the reviews: "You always like good notices, but we are in a creative process," he said, adding that he believed that the first act, in particular, needed help. "The reason we came out of town was to get audience feedback."

Hmm. The weight of the audience feedback would suggest that you'd be better off dousing the whole thing in holy water.