The Dead English shocks and delights
Published: Tuesday, October 23, 2012
Updated: Monday, November 5, 2012 20:11
Remakes of classics seldom do their predecessors justice. But tucked in a church in the Allentown district, a group of young people took a legendary story and made it their own.
Last Thursday, the musical The Dead English premiered at the American Repertory Theater. Written by Buffalo natives Justin Karcher, 27, and Steven E. Sitzman, 25, and directed by Drew McCabe, the production offered a distinctive mix of punk and gothic aesthetic and even featuredgypsies.
Based on Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the story deals with Count Dracula (Anthony Alocer) and his dissatisfaction with life in Transylvania. Together with his gypsy servants and lackey Renfield (Jacob Albarella), Dracula sets his eyes, fangs and magical proficiency on London.
Before he can depart, however, he meets young Jonathan Harker (Steven Brachmann), who has travelled to Dracula’s castle to finalize the purchase of the count’s estate in London. Dracula learns about the people of England and makes it his mission to destroy and seduce them.
“It followed the [original] plot very, very well,” said Maura Nolan, 22, of Buffalo. “I liked the take on all the different characters. Making Van Helsing a drunk, which was hysterical. It stayed true to the original while at the same time modernizing it for a newer, younger audience.”
The music for The Dead Englishincludeselements from different genres mixed together into one satisfying and captivating experience. It consists of only an acoustic guitar, electric bass, violin and drum set; the accompaniment to the singers is not your typical musical fair.The songsincorporate elements of punk, folk, indie rock, gypsy music and pop sensibility in some places, which keeps things light and upbeat.
Songs like “Another Drink Please,” in which the audience was introduced to the charming and affable Van Helsing (Steve Copps), have a quick tempo, infectious rhythm and upbeat tone with catchy lyrics. Coppsdoes a marvelous job of balancing the whimsy of his character with slaying vampires.
Instead of approaching Dracula as a dark and brooding piece with deep and somber orchestration and overwrought characters, The Dead English twists and morphs these elements into something fresh and different. The music never feels out of place to modern ears, and the dialogue is often colorful and poetic, but never too dreary.
The production’s previous experience in music helped blend the difference in tone between the gothic vampire theme in music throughout the play.
“I used to play in a punk band, so a lot of the music comes from that punk rock mindset,” Sitzman said.“But done in this space, I wanted to make it more gypsy, so we do acoustic guitar, bass, drum set.”
The cathedral hall at the Church of the Ascension set the mood perfectly. Its gigantic, pointed ceiling and abnormally large stained glass windows depicted images of the archaic, all during a heavy rain. The performance hall’s perfect equilibrium to test out this boldly unique take on a horror classic proved to work flawlessly in showcasing some of Buffalo’s aspiring thespians.
“Buffalo is full of young talent,” Karcher said. “This whole production, from top to bottom, is people under 30. We want to try new things and we just want to show that Buffalo is the perfect venue to try out these opportunities. And A.R.T. really allowed us to explore our creativity.”
The Dead English continues through Nov. 10 at the American Repertory Theater at 16 Linwood Ave.