February 3, 2006

Vampire musical “Lestat” to get fresh blood

By Michael Kahn

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Can a stage musical about
vampires -- with a score by Elton John -- rise from the dead
after reviewers called it lifeless, dreary and dull, doing
their best to drive wooden stakes through its heart?

That's the question facing "Lestat," a Broadway-bound
musical based on Anne Rice's best-selling "The Vampire
Chronicles," which just finished a six-week run in San
Francisco, grossing $4.3 million but at the expense of those
life-threatening reviews.

The producers of "Lestat" are revamping the show and hope
that a newly hired creative consultant can revive it. They have
pushed its New York opening back from April 13 to April 25 with
previews beginning March 25.

The San Francisco Chronicle called the musical "didactic,
disjointed, oddly miscast, confusingly designed and floundering
in an almost unrelenting saccharine score by Elton John."

Many theater-goers said they wished they had stayed home
and predicted the play would need a major overhaul to find
success on Broadway.

"I would have left at intermission as did many in our row
and section," a woman said in an online message board. "The
staging was lifeless and the projections of fire and
destruction boring."

To breathe life into the play, the producers, Warner Bros.
Theater Ventures, tapped Jonathan Butterell to join as a
creative consultant as the musical undergoes revisions.
Butterell's Broadway credits include "The Light in the Piazza"
and the recent revival of "Fiddler on the Roof."

Warner Bros. Theater Ventures chief Gregg Maday
acknowledged "Lestat" had problems but said it will be a whole
new show when the curtain goes up in New York.

"We are really looking at the first act in particular but
the whole play is under revamp," Maday said in a recent
telephone interview. "The show as it was in San Francisco is
not the one that will be in New York."

"Lestat" marks the inaugural production from the new Warner
Bros. Theater Ventures and pairs John with his long-time
writing partner Bernie Taupin on a Broadway score for the first

John has had Broadway hits with Disney's Tony Award-winning
"The Lion King" and "Aida" but vampires are proving to be a
tougher challenge as the show's creators look to capitalize on
the popularity of Rice's novels, which have sold tens of
millions of copies worldwide.

"The Vampire Chronicles" books tell the stories of the
vampires Louis and Lestat whose wanderings from France to New
Orleans eventually lead to rock 'n' roll stardom.

Maday said reading the rough reviews was no fun but added
they will help make for a better show. He said it was common
for a productions to make big changes after a trial run and
that so far sales were brisk for shows in New York.

Maday said along with potential new songs, the New York
version will narrow its scope and condense plots to address a
show theater-goers and critics called "vague and bloated" with
a hard-to-follow storyline.

"Here is what we took away," Maday said. "The play tried to
do a lot. It tried to take a lot of themes and a lot of plots
from the book and infuse a lot of intellectual ideas in the
storytelling. We realized there was too much confusion."