BWW Review: DRACULA: A SONG OF LOVE AND DEATH at Spencer Theatre At UMKC (with KCAT)

BWW Review: DRACULA: A SONG OF LOVE AND DEATH at Spencer Theatre At UMKC (with KCAT)

Dracula: A Song of Love and Death

Just in time for the Halloween season...The KCAT and UMKC have collaborated in bringing to the Spencer Stage at KC Rep a fresh retelling of the Dracula story, written by Mitch Brian. Brian has effectively condensed the original Stoker novel and adapted it to the stage. The original elements of the story are true to Stoker's version including the impassioned quest for blood, hypnotic deception, and the resistance through the bonds of loving friendship. Like the original, this adaptation retains the religious spiritual element that battles the darkness of evil. However, because of the many riffs and extremism in the religious world today, it may have softened that element of the original story. Brian, nonetheless, has once again brought to life the hauntingly enchanted world of Dracula, bound in mystery, intrigue, and suspense.BWW Review: DRACULA: A SONG OF LOVE AND DEATH at Spencer Theatre At UMKC (with KCAT)

This stage play uses many of the same narratives, letters, and journal entries as the mechanism to move the story along. The revelations from individual characters throughout allows time to set up the next scene, both physically and formatively. Director John Rensenhouse, and Technical Director, Hunter Andrews and crew quite masterfully pull together this rapid fire show using more high tech maneuvers than one might see on Broadway. More to the point, the elements they use do not detract, but rather enhance the show and give it the extra punch it needs to intensify the drama without taking over. Sean Obrecht's sound design, Wallace McCanless compositions, along with Hector Quintero's lighting design create a mystical setting with an ethereal quality that tell a contrasting story of shifting shadows and flickers of light. Katherine Davis and her team have constructed period costumes that capture the mood of the show and are exquisitely tailored. Kelli Harold, Scenic Designer, Mitch McDonald, Projection Designer, and Christian Taylor, Properties Master complete the scene in spectacular fashion with a spiraling grand staircase, eerie graphics, and vivid set pieces.

BWW Review: DRACULA: A SONG OF LOVE AND DEATH at Spencer Theatre At UMKC (with KCAT)With so many adaptations over the years it's difficult to imagine that there is anyone who doesn't know who Dracula is, but for those who don't, this show is the perfect introduction. Based on the 1897 gothic horror novel, we find attorney Jonathan Harker has made his way to Transylvania to the estate of Count Dracula in an effort to finalize a real estate contract. Jonathan remains ill in Transylvania as the Count heads to England by ship to attend to his recently purchased home there. Mysteriously, the ship becomes wrecked on the English shore and, with the crew missing, macabre stories of death by vampire spread.

Meanwhile, Harker's fiancée, Mina Murray, is staying with her friend Lucy Westenra. Lucy receives marriage proposals from suitors Dr. John Seward, and Quincey Morris. Dracula communicates with Seward's patient, Judith Renfield, an insane woman who consumes insects, spiders, birds, and rats to absorb their "life force". Renfield is able to detect Dracula's presence and supplies clues accordingly, as Dracula begins to stalk Lucy.

Lucy begins to suspiciously wast away amid episodes of sleepwalking and night time dementia, as witnessed my Mina. Dr. Seward invites his old teacher, Abraham Van Helsing, who immediately determines the true cause of Lucy's condition. He refuses to disclose it but diagnoses her with acute blood-loss from puncture wounds to her neck. Van Helsing prescribes blood transfusions and garlic strands to be placed throughout her room. After one of the servants removes the protection, a shadowy apparition appears and soon after Lucy dies.

After Lucy's burial there are rumors of a "beautiful woman" stalking the children of the city. Van Helsing, knowing Lucy has become a vampire, secures the help of her suitors in tracking her down and free her from her curse. They then begin to track the whereabouts of Dracula, discovering that he has established tomb sites throughout the area that contain coffins of earth from his homeland. As the group renders the tombs useless it is now Mina who becomes afflicted in much the way as Lucy.

Dracula, having learned of the group's plot against him, hastens his attacks on Mina and feeds her his own blood to control her. Mina drifts in and out of a semi-trance during which she perceives Dracula's surroundings and actions. Van Helsing is able to use hypnotism, to which she willingly submits, to track Dracula leading to a dramatic final confrontation.

BWW Review: DRACULA: A SONG OF LOVE AND DEATH at Spencer Theatre At UMKC (with KCAT)Chelsea Kinser (as Lucy) brings a vibrant flirtatiousness to the role. The audience quickly understands how her luminescent spirit attracts suitors, both human and otherwise. Marianne McKenzie (as Mina Murray-Harker) is solid in her well-grounded approach to the character. McKenzie is logical and empathetic in how she steadies herself within the role, making it all the more believable. Yetunde Felix Ukwu (as Judith Renfield) plays the tortured and incarcerated patient as the perfect bridge between human insanity and undeadly demonic. Ukwu makes us wonder if the character doesn't have one foot in each world. Completing the women of the show are Lauren Moore and Emilie Karas as the siren like brides of the Count.

Jason Francescon (as Dr. Jack Seward) and Khalif Gillett (as Quincy P Morris) are Lucy's two suitors and the two are a completed contrast. Francescon is wide-eyed as the modest physician who plays to Lucy's practical side, while Gillett s giddy as the rabble rousing American who plays to her more wild side. The two together make it understandable why Lucy has had such a struggle deciding between the two. Rounding out the men of the ensemble are Freddy Acevedo (as Jonathan Harker) as he loyally fends for his dear Mina; and Dayton Hollis (Orderly) who is diligent as the dutiful servant.BWW Review: DRACULA: A SONG OF LOVE AND DEATH at Spencer Theatre At UMKC (with KCAT)

Kip Niven (as Professor Van Helsing) is endearing as the scholarly professor and foil to Dracula. Niven drives the action as he energetically leads the group to end Dracula's bloodthirst. Josh LeBrun (Count Dracula) gives the dark count a sinister physicality and movement that play well to the audience's fear. LeBrun's dramatic stances, along with some fantastic costume prosthetics, are imposing on stage and convey more than words can imply. LeBrun uses the costume and cape in original ways that spark additional excitement into the story. Together, Niven and LeBrun make perfect adversaries as the battle between good and evil ensues.

This collaborative effort between Kansas City Actor's Theatre (KCAT) and University of Missouri Kansas City (UMKC) is now showing, October 12-21, 2018. The Spencer Theatre is located on campus at 4949 Cherry, Kansas City, MO 64110. Note: during the show there are gunshots, occasional brief strobe effects, haze & fog, and violence that may suggest sexual aggression - so keep this in mind for younger viewers who might find it frightening. Run time is about 2 hours and there is an intermission.

As word get's out about this show it is likely to sell quickly, so get your tickets early.
Tickets are available at or by calling the Central Ticket Office at 816-235-6222.

Photo's courtesy of KCAT

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From This Author Paul Bolton

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