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Scene From Production Stratford Festival - Dracula, 1999

Commentary by Elizabeth Miller

On August 28, I attended a performance of "Dracula"- a new Canadian musical adaptation of Bram Stoker's classic gothic novel. With book and lyrics by Richard Ouzounian and music by Marek Norman, this production is part of the 1999 repertoire at the Stratford Festival in Stratford, Ontario. It runs until early November.

I should note at the outset that I am not an expert on musicals. In fact, I do not even like them. But I do know "Dracula" - both as a scholar and an aficionado. All too aware of how Stoker's novel has been butchered by countless B-grade movies and numerous stage adaptations that bear little resemblance to the original story, I was just a tad anxious about what would be presented this time round. My main concern was for how much of what we would see would be Stoker and how much would be Hollywood camp.

Thankfully, Stoker predominated. To begin with, it appears that Richard Ouzounian went out of his way to remove any elements that might convey campiness to a vampire-saturated audience: protruding fangs; vampire-repellent garlic, swooping bats, and a Count Dracula clad in cape with peaked collar (not in the original novel, by the way). Even the word "vampire" is excised from this script (in favor of "nosferatu" and "the un-dead").

For the most part, the script is faithful to the novel. Occasionally, one recognizes the intrusion of stage/film motifs: Dracula gazing at a photo of Mina and Lucy that Jonathan has brought with him to the Castle; the use of the term "Carfax Abbey" for Dracula's new home in England (in the novel it is simply "Carfax"); the destructive power of sunlight (in this case, for a spectacular stage-effect). While these changes were, for me, of little consequence, one alteration did have a significant effect. This was the decision to have Lucy fully aware of Dracula's nocturnal visits, even to the point of introducing dialogue between the two. This is not the case in the novel, where the encounters are for her more like a dream state, of which she has no recollection when she awakes. This distinguishes her more clearly from Mina who, being fully aware of what is happening, is able to muster the power to resist.

But overall, the production remains true to the spirit of the original. One is confronted with the paradoxical pull of attraction and repulsion (though I must confess I found this Dracula to be more attractive than repulsive), the quintessential psychomachia that informs the original - the battle between good and evil, and the redemptive power of love (as Stoker - not Francis Ford Coppola - intended it).

As for the musical component, I did find that at times the music built to a crescendo a bit too early, leaving nowhere else to go. But aside from that, I found several of the selections both stirring and poignant. While my personal favorite was the Count's "Dreams of Darkness", more moving - and in keeping with the theme of good versus evil - was Jonathan's refrain of "I Will Shelter You" in the closing scene.

A performance is ultimately not for the director, the actors, or even the reviewers - but for the audience. And if the audience on August 28 was typical (and I have been told it was), then the standing ovation they gave at the end says it all.

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COPYRIGHT©2005 Dr. Elizabeth Miller