Vampires: Broadway's most expensive flop

By FREDERICK M. WINSHIP  |  Jan. 24, 2003 at 5:06 PM
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NEW YORK, Jan. 24 (UPI) -- "Dance of the Vampires," a $12 million musical starring Michael Crawford, is to close Saturday at the Minskoff Theater, the most expensive flop in Broadway history with only 56 performances.

Investors in the show will have lost all their money, a common occurrence on Broadway but greatly magnified by the enormous cost of the show. There will be no original cast album or national tour of the show, management announced.

"Dance of the Vampires" originated in Vienna as a German-language musical version of Roman Polanski's 1967 spoof film, "The Fearless Vampire Killers," and is still playing to European audiences. It opened on Broadway in English on Dec. 9 after 61 preview performances and received poor to mediocre reviews.

Box office ticket sales, which had been good before the opening on the strength of Crawford's name, immediately plummeted to less than $500,000 a week, dangerously below the show's weekly running costs of about $600,000. An increase in television advertising was considered but dropped for lack of money.

Crawford rose to Broadway stardom in the title role of "The Phantom of the Opera," and "Dance of the Vampires" marked his return to the stage after years of Las Vegas engagements and platinum recordings. But he was unable to overcome the new show's weaknesses and seemed to be satirizing the romantic Phantom character he had created.

Most critics found Crawford's performance underwhelming, even laughable for all the wrong reasons. The UPI review described the actor as miscast and adrift in a "mostly unfunny entertainment satirizing Bram Stoker's Transylvanian tale in an amateurish way that robs it of its power to scare and titillate." It also criticized the show's "lewd vulgarity," absent in previous reincarnations of the vampire legend, and predicted the musical would be one of Broadway's most spectacular fiascos.

The show has music and lyrics by pop songwriter-record producer Jim Steinman and Michael Kunze, a Czech-born writer for the stage who also supplied the show's book. The director is John Rando, who won a Tony Award last season for the current Broadway hit, "Urinetown." It also brought back to the stage veteran actor Rene Auberjonois after years in television.

The show most likely will be best remembered for introducing Max Von Essen, a young singing actor who could become a star judging by his fine performance as the vampire's young nemesis in the lead romantic role of Alfred. Also getting good notices was Alfred's heart interest, Sarah, played by Mandy Gonzales, recently seen on Broadway as Amneris in Disney's "Aida."

Although there is no agency that keeps strict account of Broadway's flops, it is believed that "Dance of the Vampires" is the most expensive on record, even more disastrous than "Capeman," an expensive musical that sank without trace several seasons ago. It was based on a sensational New York murder in the 1950s.

Unlike most shows, "Dance of the Vampires" opened on Broadway without the usual out-of-town warm-up during which improvements in the show can be made. It was forced to cancel its first two previews because of technical problems with its hi-tech stage machinery and the opening was delayed nearly three weeks by director Rando's absence due to a family emergency.

Composer-librettist Steinman's absence on opening night also was an ominous sign. After reading the poor reviews he complained to the news media that the Broadway show was too broad and jokey as a spoof and lacked the sophisticated humor of the German-language production, which is still doing well at the box office at theaters in Vienna and Stuttgart.

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