From the Shelf: Total Eclipse of the Heart
I recently noted that two of this fall's new Broadway musicals--Amour and Dance of the Vampires--were written and originally performed in a foreign language, and that both have double-CD cast recordings in their original languages. When I first played these albums, I had no idea that either show would ever make it to Broadway. So the discs have acquired new value, functioning as a preview of things to come.
Last week, I discussed the live recording of the Paris production of Le Passe-Muraille, which will become Amour on Broadway. I've now listened again to Polydor's original cast recording of Tanz der Vampire. The show had its premiere at Vienna's Raimund Theater in October 1997 (the same year as the Paris Passe-Muraille), and exactly five years later, Vampires will begin previews at the Minskoff.
Tanz der Vampire was a big hit in Europe (it's in its third year in Stuttgart, Germany), but, unlike Amour, which I gather will be a fairly direct translation/adaptation of Le Passe-Muraille and what's heard on its recording, the Broadway Dance of the Vampires will represent a considerable revision of the German-language show.
This is suggested just by the credits. The 1997 original had book and lyrics by Michael Kunze, who wrote the libretto for the smash hit Elisabeth, which also premiered in Vienna and was subsequently produced in a number of countries. The music was by Jim Steinman, the pop songwriter well known for his collaborations with the singer Meat Loaf (Bat Out of Hell); Steinman's musical theatre work has included a 1974 Public Theatre show called More Than You Deserve and the lyrics for Andrew Lloyd Webber's Whistle Down the Wind.
Perhaps the biggest name involved with the Vienna Tanz der Vampire was that of Roman Polanski, directing the musical based on his film The Fearless Vampire Killers (released in 1967, the same year as Thoroughly Modern Millie, the musical version of which will be playing across the street from Vampires).
For Broadway, the Dance of the Vampires credits bill Steinman as both composer and lyricist, with Kunze credited for "original German book and lyrics." The book is now by David Ives, Steinman, and Kunze, with direction and choreography by the Urinetown team of John Rando (who won a 2002 Tony) and John Carrafa (who was nominated for two). I'm told that one major difference between the German and English-language versions is that while the original was almost all music, the New York show will have considerably more dialogue.
In Vienna, the leading role of Count von Krolock was the high point of the career of Steve Barton, who also appeared in such other German-language productions as Cats and Beauty and the Beast, and whose death last year was ruled a suicide. Barton was, of course, Raoul in The Phantom of the Opera in the original London and Broadway companies, playing opposite Michael Crawford, who will be Krolock on Broadway. (Barton was also one of Crawford's successors in the title role of Phantom.)
Barton's high-quality baritone can be heard on the Tanz der Vampire cast recording. In the case of Le Passe-Muraille, my college French came in handy for following the libretto enclosed with the CDs. My German doesn't extend beyond what I've picked up from opera and cast recordings in that language, but the Vienna program included a helpful scene-by-scene synopsis and song listing in English.
As preserved on the Vienna recording, the action begins when Professor Abronsius and his student Alfred travel to Transylvania in search of vampires. They stay at the inn of Chagal, who lives with his wife Rebecca but is also having an affair with their maid, Magda. Alfred falls instantly in love with Sarah, daughter of Chagal and Rebecca, but while Sarah returns Alfred's affections, she's drawn to Count von Krolock, a world-weary vampire who invites her to a ball at his castle. When Sarah takes up the invitation, she's followed to the castle by the others, who have various encounters with those residing within (including the count's gay son, Herbert von Krolock).
When I discussed the recording of Le Passe-Muraille, I described the piece as a pop opera only because it's entirely sung and the music is contemporary. But it's pure Michel Legrand, lightweight and very French. Tanz der Vampire was in Vienna considered a pop or rock opera, and its score is more along the lines of the popular British imports. It's an unusual mix of operetta (Gilbert and Sullivan-like patter material for the Professor; a chorus in praise of garlic), Kurt Weill (the crypt scene), hard-driving rock ("Carpe Noctem," the title-number finale), opera, and pop opera.
Highlights of the CDs include Alfred's song of devotion "For Sarah"; the Sarah-Alfred duet "Freedom Is Out There" (to be called "Braver Than We Are" in New York); the freshly-bitten Magda's realization that "Death Is an Odd Thing"; the "Dies Irae" theme in "Carpe Noctem"; a waltz ("When Love Is Within You") for Alfred and Herbert; and the "Eternity" march of the vampires. Barton is especially good in his late, seven-minute solo "The Insatiable Appetite." The big Krolock-Sarah duet "Total Eclipse of the Heart" is derived from a pre-existing Steinman hit.
If this doesn't sound like one of the very best of the pop opera scores, there are enough good things to get one through the lengthy (157 minute) recording. As indicated, the Broadway score will not be identical to the one heard in Vienna. And there are other factors that should make this a very different Dance in New York. But more about that when we get to our musical season preview.
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