Each generation gets its own version of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the classic vampire horror story, that possibly reflects the needs of it own time. The latest version now called Dracula: A Comedy of Terrors by Gordon Greenberg and Steve Rosen is a hoot, both a parody and a comedy, a cross-dressing hilarity in the style of both Charles Ludlam’s Ridiculous Theatrical Company and Monty Python. A fabulously talented cast of five led by buff, sexy young James Daly in the title role get a workout with the other four playing many roles in quick costume changes. Greenberg’s production with its witty script and design makes this a must-see entertainment. After the pandemic and other recent horrors, this is just what the doctor ordered.
Faithful to the plot of Stoker’s Victorian novel but a spoof at the same time, Dracula: A Comedy of Terrors uses an attractive black Gothic unit set by Tijana Bjelajac for its Transylvanian as well as its English locales, atmospherically lit alternately by red and purple lights by Rob Denton. Clad in Tristan Raines’ tight leather pants and loose lacy top, 6’3” blue-eyed blond actor James Daly who rips open his shirt twice to reveal his trim muscular frame is seductive both with the men and women and has apparent success with both. As the pansexual Gen Z vampire, he is the only actor who plays only one role, the others not only switching roles but costumes with speed and ease. His charming Romanian accent comes and goes as suavely as his wit and charisma.
Beauteous Jordan Boatman plays a vivacious and independent scientist Lucy Westfeldt, fiancée to milquetoast real estate agent Jonathan Harker who unknowingly shows her picture to the immediately smitten Count Dracula in a visit to his Romanian castle which causes all of the story’s troubles. Boatman also shows up as the hilarious and insolent maid Kitty. Keenan-Bolger plays the weak, spineless Harker with a great deal of panache, as well as several former suitors who appear at their engagement party back in England. Under the tutelage of Dracula, he eventually throws off his timid ways and becomes a more extroverted mate for Lucy.
The other two actors play multiple cross-dressing characters. Arnie Burton, who is a dab hand at this sort of thing having appeared in multiple roles in The 39 Steps, The Inspector General, The Mystery of Irma Vep, Lives of the Saints, The Temperamentals and Fairy Cakes, plays both Lucy’s horny, homely and high-spirited sister Mina who would do anything to get a man as well as vampire hunter Dr. Jean Van Helsing, the thick German accented doctor who saves the day and turns out to be a woman rather than the male doctor expected. Burton brings down the house with the delivery of his every remark. Ellen Harvey in what is called in the opera “pants roles” plays both the narrow-minded and dour Dr. Westfeldt, father to both Lucy and Mina, and head of a lunatic asylum, and the wry and very different insect-eating Renfield, first one of his patients and then servant to Dracula.
With its unit set and quick changes, the production team adds greatly to the fun. Victoria Deiorio’s imaginative sound design and moody music hit the spot. Ashley Rae Callahan’s hair and wig design is both redolent of the late Victorian age as well as beautifully helps transform the actors from character to character. Aside from her suitable and appropriate unit set, Bjelajac is also responsible for the clever puppet design from extra wedding guests to high flying bats. As dialect coach, Jerome Butler’s work gets a great many laughs with Dr. Van Helsing’s over-the-top German accent as well as Dracula’s charming Romanian one.
Greenberg and Rosen’s script is a combination of witty and inane lines which always trigger laughter, much of it going to the outré Mina: “What else does it say? You know I can’t read words;” watching her sister and fiancé Harker canoodling she says, “It’s okay, I like to watch.” When Dracula continues sleeping throughout the sea voyage to England, the Bosun remarks that “I can only assume that he’s overdone it with the Dramamine.” When the ship is about to go down, the Captain writes in his log, “If I should meet my watery end, please tell my wife and my mistress that she was the only woman I ever loved.” Even normally mousy Harker is given a gag or two, like when he says to Lucy, “I want to introduce you to my cousins Mary and Shelly.” The usually dour Dr. Westfeldt inadvertently tickles our funny bone with the search for the missing Renfield with “There are horses, pitchforks and amphetamines outside.”
Much of Greenberg’s direction is tongue-in-cheek, always playing to the audience (it’s that kind of show). The script has delicious modern anachronisms that add to the fun. With a cast led by debuting Canadian actor James Daly and the versatile Jordan Boatman, Arnie Burton, Ellen Harvey and Andrew Keenan-Bolger, this is a comedy that sends you out with a smile on your face and a feeling that you have seen a rip-roaring success. This Dracula should be here for a long visit to our shores.
Dracula, A Comedy of Terrors (through January 7, 2024)
New World Stages, 340 W. 50th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-239-4200 or visit http://www.Draculacomedy.com
Running time: 95 minutes without an intermission