Lestat: Die Young - Live Forever - Make Bad Musicals
To write that Allison Fischer stops the show in the middle of Lestat's second act might falsely give the impression that the authors had actually provided a show up until that point. Playing a newly-bitten 19th Century New Orleans vampire cursed to forever remain looking like Patty McCormack in The Bad Seed (thanks to costume designer Susan Hilferty and wig designer Tom Watson), she sings a twangy, hoedown melody (What the hell was Elton John thinking?) with lyrics expressing her new-found thirst for blood. In fairness to her fellow actors, after an act and a half of composer John's musically bland, generic pop drama Fischer has the advantage of singing the first song in the score that has something resembling a catchy hook (by this point I gave up any hope that Bernie Taupin's lyrics would ever provide anything of interest) and much of the number's excitement is the joy of finally having a hummable tune to leave with. But credit must be given to the young actress who grandly belts her number with mischievous glee, pulling off dark comic bits and ending downstage center with a confident, assured "applaud me" pose. If there's anything exciting to come out of Lestat, playing at the legendary house that once represented the pinnacle of vaudeville success, it's the pleasure of seeing a young performer, making her Broadway debut, who now can not only say she's "Played the Palace", but that she stopped the show there. Allison Fischer is absolutely the best reason to wait outside the theatre at intermission and ask people walking out to give you their ticket stubs.
Lestat, based on Anne Rice's The Vampire Chronicles, is one of those unfortunate occurrences where a talented group of artists make fine contributions to material that is just too underwritten and dull to stand a chance. This is not an aggressively bad, jaw-dropping disaster. Director Robert Jess Roth has mounted a fine, respectable production. Designers Derek McLane (sets), Kenneth Posner (lights) and Hilferty provide modest, but attractive and sufficiently gothic visuals for this intimate show. Bravo to Hugh Panaro, who is in splendid voice and plays the title role with a natural ease and confident leading man masculinity. Brava to the underutilized Carolee Carmello, so thrilling when she's allowed to let loose with ferocious vocal dynamics and a couple of good comic bits. They, and the rest of the worthy cast (not a weak link in the bunch), are quite deserving of your applause.
There are no modern-day rock stars telling the story in flashback in bookwriter Linda Woolverton's text, but less than a minute after the curtain goes up we see our hero rather enjoying the feel of blood on his face. The blood comes from a pack of attacking wolves, which Lestat skillfully slays with just a knife… while singing even! A recurring theme throughout the show (or at least, a line that keeps on being repeated) is that you don't blame the wolf for trying to kill you. That's what it must do to live.
Lestat's mom (Carmello) is not in the best of health and she encourages the boy to go out and live, so he runs off to a Paris theatre to sleep with a cute musician (Roderick Hill). Well, he flirts with him, at least, but winds up chickening out and leaving the poor fella alone on the sheets. And that's when he gets bitten by head vampire Magnus (Joseph Dellger) and starts singing lyrics like, "This thirst is strong / It overpowers all right and wrong."
He returns homes, where mom greets him with, "Lestat, I was just dreaming of you."
Since mom wants the chance to live forever, and the audience wants the chance to hear Carolee Carmello sing something in full voice, the dutiful son bites his mommy. She is so thrilled with having been turned into a vampire that the first thing she does is give herself a haircut. (I don't know. It's in the script.) She then tackles the first unfortunate fellow passing by and not only sucks the life out of him, but puts on his clothes, making herself look like a man and causing Freudians in the audience to salivate.
The cute musician returns, a bunch of vampires form a theatre troupe, mom heads out on her own adventures and for reasons that only Linda Woolverton can explain (No wait – she can't) Act I ends with Lestat heading down to New Orleans. Like any tourist looking for a good time in The Big Easy, he finds a cute and depressed drunk guy (Jim Stanek) and takes him home, but not before applying one of his special hickeys. He then finds a young girl (Fischer) to transform into their undead daughter, but she's upset at being granted eternal life before having a chance to develop breasts, so the tyke plots her revenge.
There's a ten minute stretch in Act II when Lestat is actually kinda cool. There's Fischer's song, and then some amusing dialogue where the boys are making fun of Bram Stoker's newly-released, Dracula. Another highlight is Carmello's performance of "The Crimson Kiss", a forgettable song made into a memorable moment by her attention-sucking intensity.
Another enjoyable moment is when Panaro is left alone on stage to sing a ballad late in Act II. Blameless and giving his all, he has a hopeful and inviting look to accompany his sweet vocals. It's a warm bit of intimacy between actor and audience. The song itself, which makes little impact, is appropriately titled, "Sail Me Away."
Bottom: Carolee Carmello