The Georgetown Theatre Company asked DC Theatre Scene to review its original production, Dracula – A Family Musical, which is now playing at the Food Court of the Shops at Georgetown Park. Thus I am obliged to file this melancholy report.
Having a children’s theater production at the mall during the holidays is a terrific idea. It would be a godsend to parents if they could park their children at some exciting live theater for a bit while mom and dad shop for their Christmas presents. Properly done, it’s cheaper and more fun than a baby-sitter. I take my hat off to Georgetown Park for the thought.
Regrettably, this production does not constitute exciting live theater. The book (Edward L. Hudgins) is insipid and full of exposition; the music (Tara Greenberg) is simple and bland, and the lyrics (Greenberg) predictable. The performances, with one notable exception, are embarrassingly amateurish and the singing is by and large excruciating.
To compress the Dracula story down to a 50-minute essence, Hudgins has Dracula (Timothy R. King) overwhelm Renfield (Stefan Aleksander) in Transylvania, and thereafter appear in England on the doorstep of Renfield’s employer, Jonathan Harker (Jonathan Lee Taylor). Harker, who is entertaining Mina (Charlene V. Smith), the woman he hopes to marry, and who has just read (aloud) a newspaper story implicating Dracula in the murder of (literally) a boatload of people, nonetheless greets the Count with open arms, and allows him to walk Mina home. Subsequently, Harker visits Dr. Van Helsing (Sarah Haft), in whose institution Renfield has been committed; Van Helsing, by dint of historical research, discovers that a recent rash of blood-drained corpses can be traced to – Dracula. In the meantime, Dracula, by biting Mina in her neck, has cast her under his spell, or whatever. There is the usual subsequent confrontation, with the usual weapons (the cross; the stake; sunlight; garlic and so on), with the usual results.
The discerning child will have a lot of questions about this play, including why a newspaper story about the grounding of a boat would not mention until the fifth paragraph or so that the crewmembers were all dead and completely drained of blood; or why Harker was compelled to explain to Dracula what his business relationship to the Carfax estate was notwithstanding the fact that Dracula had bought the estate through Harker; or why Harker is moved to tell Van Helsing the complete history of his relationship with Mina, including his determination to marry her, and why he runs to Van Helsing when Mina doesn’t show up for dinner, and even (if his mother is a lawyer) why it would take all morning to file a deed. But maybe he won’t mention them, since there’s a lot of other things he can talk about.
Like the performances. Is there any reason why Dracula needs to walk around with a grin on his face? Or is there an explanation why Van Helsing, three weeks into the production, doesn’t know her lines? Or why Mina is off-key to a degree which appears almost scientifically designed to make us uncomfortable? Her duets with Dracula, believe you me, are far more horrifying than any journey to the land of the undead could be.
From all these harsh criticisms I specifically, and enthusiastically, exempt Aleksander, who is a magnificent Renfield. Of course, Renfield’s principal responsibility is to convincingly gobble up flies, spiders and rats, but Aleksander does his job with gusto, and when he must find his conscience and confront Dracula, he does so believably. He has a single song – something about how he had urged Dracula to spare Mina – which he delivers beautifully and powerfully. A Dracula in which Renfield is the star is a Dracula in trouble, but Aleksander deserves his props.
Children are smarter than we think. They react well to quality productions. When I look at some of the things Imagination Stage has done, or Adventure Theater under Michael Bobbitt, I see companies who are prepared to challenge children’s imagination and intelligence, not condescend to them. From Georgetown Theatre Company, which is capable of good work – their Jack the Ticket Ripper, for example, earned widespread critical and audience acclaim in the 2009 Fringe – I’d like to see the same.
Dracula – A Family Musical
Adapted by Edward L. Hudgins from a novel by Bram Stoker
Music and Lyrics by Talia Greenberg
Directed by Juliana Avery and Catherine Aselford
Produced by Georgetown Theatre Company
Reviewed by Tim Treanor