In Lestat, we learn about friendship and betrayal from Anne Rice's title-character vampire in a musical as up-beat as Carousel with a family as warm and friendly as The Sopranos. What fun!
Lestat features yearning neediness, deep betrayal, and releasing wisdom. It closely tracks The Vampire Lestat, Rice's second book of the series, and the compressed format showed me its very human themes much more sharply than did Interview with a Vampire, the only Rice book I tried. On paper, I got caught up in the fantasy and vampire lore. In the theater, Lestat is definitely about people.
The play's music is written by Elton John and Bernie Taupin, and the duo deliver on melodic -- and occasionally striking -- songs that fit naturally into the arc of the evening. Stronger in the second act, the numbers are full of words tied to the vampire chronicles -- making most unsuitable for sing-along singles. Still, they do great work in enhancing the telling of the life, err.. death, of the protagonist. (Let's not call him the hero.)
The production is still in its shakedown, pre-Broadway infancy, yet it is powerful and tight. I wouldn't change much of what we saw. The San Francisco version opens officially January 8 but clearly is revision-bait until its scheduled appearance in New York March 11th. This may be enough time to clean up some over-rhyming clicker lyrics and to do some focusing which will cut the 2:50 run time to something more MTV-like. Major revisions to the book and music are on-going, and the feeling of experimentation enhanced my enjoyment.
The production itself is intricate, well thought out, and dazzling. I particularly liked the video effects that provide fill-in-the-gap histories and that accompany the crimson bites of the clan. The multi-media quickness helped me not notice how much material was being presented -- and how long the play really was.
Hugh Panaro's Lestat shows us a wide range of believable emotions. He carries off Rice's homo-erotic scenes with Nicolas (Roderick Hill) and Louis (Jim Stanek) with the same unstated but unmistakable meaning as they were were in the novel. That style is so needed in today's over-explicit, unsubtle "art".
Claudia (Allison Fischer) is the center of attention and full of energy in each of her scenes. She's great to watch.
Michael Genet's Marius commands the stage by his visual presence during his few scenes. He speaking voice is a bit muted, perhaps in overreaction to the near over-miking done to all the actors. (Are there no Ethel Mermans anymore -- or are they just excluded from the musicals because their voices are too rowdy?)
Armand -- played by understudy Drew Sarich since the role was revised mid-run on December 22nd -- is a satisfyingly empty villain.
Hopefully by the San Francisco "opening" on 8th, the production will be settled enough to avoid the few sloppy light cues and stepping on lines that were minor annoyances when we saw the show New Years Eve.
Lestat is a meaty play that uses music to further the story instead of being a musical review that uses a story as a hat rack for its songs. It's a drama that would be worth seeing even without the singing. That's my type of musical!
Ozdachs rating **** out of *****