We’re barely into January, but it’s safe to assume that this puzzling, cheesy and horribly staged revival of “Dracula” will be remembered as one of the absolute worst productions of the entire year.
The Gothic drama, adapted from the Bram Stoker novel, was first staged on Broadway in 1927 with Bela Lugosi, who later achieved international fame playing Dracula in the celebrated 1931 film version. A 1977 Broadway revival starred Frank Langella and was notable for its costume and scenic design by Edward Gorey.
While the play itself is no longer likely to frighten theatergoers, it still makes for an exciting melodrama when performed with the right style. In the alternative, it could be played up for easy laughs as a campy comedy, just as Roman Polanski (“The Fearless Vampire Killers”) and Mel Brooks (“Dracula: Dead and Loving It”) have done.
Unfortunately, Paul Alexander’s slow-paced production is dramatically inert and sloppy in every imaginable way. The set looks as though it were designed for a high school production. Even the special effects are disappointing, particularly the bat that dangles from the top of the stage like a rag doll and the overused smoke machine.
It’s worth noting that just days before the first preview performance, actress Thora Birch, who played Kevin Spacey’s daughter in the film “American Beauty,” was fired and replaced with understudy Emily Bridges. According to a New York Times report, Birch’s father had threatened another actor in the cast for touching her.
George Hearn, the Broadway veteran best known from the original productions of “La Cage aux Folles” and “Sweeney Todd,” plays Professor Van Helsing. His presence adds a touch of dignity to the proceedings, but even he looks lost in this mess.
Michel Altieri, a young Italian stage actor, has sex appeal but no bite — so to speak — as Dracula. The scene where a stake is thrust into his heart is so pathetic that it’s laughable.
If you go: “Dracula” plays an open run at the Little Shubert Theatre, 422 W. 42nd St., 212-239-6200, draculaonstage.com.