Lestat – Visually Rich

by Buzzin' Lee Hartgrave on January 10, 2006

AS YOU ENTER THE THEATER, YOU ARE STRUCK BY A FAUX CAVERN AROUND THE STAGE. RIGHT OFF THE BAT – YOU ARE READY FOR A GREAT VAMPIRE ROMP. THE DRAPPED HEAVY PAINTED CANVAS AROUND THE ARCH GIVES THE FEELING OF BEING IN A BAT CAVE.

When the lights go up on the stage it is mostly bare with just a modern acrylic desk with, guess what? … an Apple Computer. At the Computer is Lestat. It’s a fun little touch before he starts biting everything in site in the 1800’s. Lestat is a problem boy in the 1800’s. His dad hates him and his mother has a kinky love relationship with her son. Dad never believes a word that Lestat says and is constantly being put down. His mom encourages him to leave to find his own life. Do things that she always wanted to do – but never had the chance. She hands him a kerchief full of Jewels to make his way in the world. With a friend (a very close male friend) Lestat gets off to a rousing start. He bumps into a guy in the woods who likes Lestat’s youthful neck and bites him, which of course turns Lestat into a Vampire.

This scene of biting is enacted over and over throughout the Musical as Lestat not only turns his “Best Friend” into a Vampire, but also his mother years later – just before she dies. He gives her immortal life. In-between all this biting the musical soars with sumptuous ground-breaking Special Effects. It will certainly be the guidepost for future musicals. You can barely take your eyes off the dazzle. It is even more spectacular than Phantom.

The first act is really like an Opera. And as an Opera it worked well. In the second act when Lestat leaves Europe for a little backward place in 1827 called New Orleans, is when all his troubles begin and his world turns against him. He finds out that even Vampires betray each other. One thing that did not work in the second act was that they seemed to run out of music. It becomes a play with music. A musical is for singing – and they should stick to a minimum of talk. Or at least write some more music. Although there are a couple of memorable songs in this musical, the reaction of the Opening Night audience did not get overworked on it. The applause was what would be called “Polite”.
But, I don’t want to keep you away from Lestat. Why not? Because the cast is exceptional. Hugh Panaro as Lestat is absolutely mesmerizing as he goes from being the “Cock of the walk”, to a broken and disillusioned Vampire. In addition. “Wicked fun” is in the show. Then there is the captivating acting, and the remarkable staging.

As for the music by Elton John – it is O.K, but not great. And, it is very derivative of other musicals. “Les Miz” and “Phantom” come to mind. Here is the problem with “Lestat”. They have not built up enough sympathy for the dashing Vampire. He is running here and there to find love – but no one seems to love him. There needs to be a song of real pain that will reach out to the audience. Sort of a “Let Him Be” song that wrings the tears out of you.

Not that they want it, but here is my advice on how to make this show better. Shave some of the scenes. Make it a tighter show. Cut down on some of the repitition. Make the scenes between Lestat and his male friends a little more erotic. He doesn’t date girls. Every time Lestat bites someone on the neck we get the same rear projections and sound. Maybe some of his victims should be dragged off stage while he is drawing blood. We saw it the first time – don’t hit us over the head with the biting scenes. Also there is a song that should be cut. The little waif Claudia who Lestat drags home as a daughter for him and Armand sings two songs. The first one is O.K. – but the second song was hard to understand, and it is unnecessary. Lestat has saved Claudia from the horrors of being an abanded child on the street. But like Rhoda in the Bad Seed she plots against him. Later on in the play she gets what she deserves. I was glad to see the ungrateful brat thrown in the fire. Keep her in – but cut the song.

The terrific ensemble cast carries this musical. Hugh Penaro is on stage almost every moment in this magical adventure. His mother Carolee Carmello is spectacular, Drew Sarich (Armand) is perfectly evil and Jim Stanek (Louis), Roderick Hill (Nicolas) and Michael Genet (Marius) bring great passion to the stage. None of this however could work without the gestures, singing and acting of Rachel Coloff, Nikki Renee

Daniels, Joseph Dellger, Collen Fitzpatrick, Chris Peluso, Megan Reinking, Will Swenson and Tommar Wilson. “Lestat” may not be for everyone. But if you are a Theater Buff – you should see it here – because the Tickets in New York are priced at $100 and $65.00 (Balcony).

RATING: THREE GLASSES OF CHAMPAGNE!!! At the Curran

OTHER VOICES: SEE THE BLOG ABOUT LESTAT IN THE buzzblogpost section.

ANOTHER VIEW: Sent by Anon: “After the first five minutes of Lestat be prepared, because you are going to see the same five minutes of material over and over for three hours. I suggest everyone who attends, bring the entire Vampire Chronicles’ by Anne rice and a flashlight and pour through them during the show, because there is no other way you will make sense out of anything that goes on from start to finish.”

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Buzzin’ Lee Hartgrave

Buzzin’ Lee Hartgrave is a longtime theater critic in the San Francisco Bay Area. His reviews appear each Friday in Beyond Chron.

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