Sunday, November 30, 2014

Meeting Count Dracula

It began, as many good things have, with Turun kaupunginteatteri's Jekyll & Hyde.

What do you do when a musical you love closes and you cannot watch it live again? Wallow in sadness and nostalgia, probably... but maybe also search Youtube for videos from other productions? That's what I and my friend did after seeing our last Jekyll & Hyde last spring. And after watching all manner of disappointing and bizarre bootlegs of Dr. Jekyll's story, we turned our attention to other musicals by Frank Wildhorn.

We watched Dracula, but that was hardly the reason we spent last weekend in Pforzheim, Germany. Instead, The Scarlet Pimpernel's to blame.

The Scarlet Pimpernel is not a good musical. The German production we found on Youtube was, we thought, largely horrendous goo. The mix of humor and drama was imbalanced, half of the cast not to our tastes, the amount of boring love songs almost unbearable, the plot almost incomprehensible. A complete mess, to be honest.

But in the middle of all that awful, there was this awesome-meets-insane revolutionary character who opposed the titular hero in a really sarcastic, determined, energetic manner. During one glorious scene, he even climbed on a table and wrapped himself in the flag of the republic while loudly shouting about his mission.

After suffering through the rest of the musical, we had to find out more about Chris Murray.

It turned out Youtube's full of Murray's performances. After marathoning some videos, it turned out we like him in pretty much everything he's done. And so, in less than two months after finding out the man exists, we booked our tickets to see him live in Theater Pforzheim. As Count Dracula in the Wildhorn musical, no less.

I have a love-hate relationship with Frank Wildhorn's musicals.

I don't really like any of them. They're all full of plot holes, silly lyrics and songs already featured in other shows. No matter which show, half of the songs sound the same. But a good production can sometimes transform the mediocre material, and that's where the love stems from.

Pforzheim's Dracula did something right. The show's still what it is, with its endless love songs and predictable melodrama... But it's also good. I found the direction's balance in between serious and silly perfect, and the characters felt more interesting than I thought was possible. The whole show was better than I expected it could be.

Seeing a solid production of the musical was an additional bonus, though. We were there for one reason.

It was odd seeing someone live I've only seen in videos before. Being a fan of Finnish musicals, this doesn't happen, since there are no bootlegs of Finnish theatre online. Sometimes, you can see Finnish TV or movie actors onstage, but that's hardly the same as seeing someone live whose stage musical performances you have already watched.

Chris Murray was just as amazing live as on recordings.

I didn't have words back in Pforzheim. Now, a week later, I still don't.

He was good.

It was nice really going to a German theatre after being a fan of German musicals for years. It was almost as fun observing the audience as it was watching the show. The applause and especially the curtain call were really enthusiastic, that's something we reserved Finns aren't used to. It was also fun going to the stagedoor after the show to actually meet our favourite performer. That's another rather foreign thing to us reserved Finns...

Maybe I should also say something about the musical itself.

I got the feeling the creative team had read their Dracula the novel. The character of Professor van Helsing, played by Jon Geoffrey Goldsworthy, felt particularily true to the book. What's more, the production made me invested in characters I didn't think I could care for. Hats off to Thomas Christ for a touching portrayal of Jonathan Harker – thanks for making shivers run down my spine during what I used to think was the most boring solo of the whole show.

This was a musical trip to remember. I'm crossing my fingers this wasn't my last time in a German theatre. And I hope it wasn't my last time seeing Chris Murray live, either!

To end this post, here are three of my favourite Chris Murray videos. I went to Pforzheim after watching these. Let me know if they take you on a journey, too.

The best Falcon in the Dive ever.

My favourite Confrontation. (Watch the full show for the ultimate experience.)

Okay, this is an audio recording, but nevertheless – my favourite song from Dracula.

Photos from Theater Pforzheim's Facebook.
Also check out: another review of the production.


  1. It's awesome when things like that happen! You absent-mindedly watch a video on YT, and the next thing you know you're in a theatre in the middle of nowhere watching something obscure -- and squeeing. Possibly also learning a whole new language and looking for jobs in the country.

    I agree with you on Frank Wildhorn's musicals. They're sort of a guilty pleasure of mine. There's a handful of songs I love to bits and you could form one really excellent musical out of them, but then there's the rest of the songs... And the pointless, over-stressed romance. And the really boring love songs. There's a huge amount of potential there, but it takes a really determined theatre to dig it out, do something about it and make it shine like a thousand suns.

    1. Heh, yeah. As if I wasn't busy enough with all the Nordic musicals, but now suddenly, Germany. Where next? I must be careful with those late night Youtube marathons!

      I want to see the super musical with the good songs from all Wildhorn shows combined. It would be a wild ride. Wonder what the plot would be about...

  2. If this isn't an argument for bootlegs, then I don't know what is. Glad you got to see Mr. Murray in a Wildhorn original!

  3. Wildhorn musicals... Well, Jekyll and Hyde has some good songs - Girls of the night, Dangerous game, If you only knew - and great setting - gaslit London. I also like the idea of adding two women - Lucy and Miss Carew - in the show. However, I think the show does not get enough about this great material. Same with Dracula. Some good songs - but it should be more, with such source material!

    1. I somewhat agree with you. I think both J&H and Dracula are musicals that, in the hands of the right cast and crew, can be good – the productions I've seen live are proof of that. But yes, I'm sure you could create better scripts based on the classic novels. If you ask me, Wildhorn's shows have a tendency of having too many love songs (especially Dracula!), and the female characters are usually very underdeveloped beyond their relationship with the male love interest...