******************* RECENSIONI *******************

The creatures of Anne Rice's "The Vampire Chronicles" have survived many things -- fire, famine, dismemberment, even a couple of regrettable Hollywood movies. Whether they can survive "Lestat," the Broadway-bound musical at the Curran Theatre, is more open to question.
Didactic, disjointed, oddly miscast, confusingly designed and floundering in an almost unrelentingly saccharine score by Elton John, "Lestat" opened Sunday as the latest ill-conceived Broadway hopeful in the Best of Broadway series (following on the heels of "Lennon" and "Mambo Kings"). It's the first stage production of the new Warner Bros. Theatre Ventures, and if that sounds as if Bugs Bunny's company is trying to follow in the footsteps of Mickey Mouse, it's no accident.
"Lestat" was put together by director Robert Jess Roth, who staged Disney's first theatrical venture, "Beauty and the Beast," now in its 12th year on Broadway. Linda Woolverton, who wrote the book, adapted "Beauty" from her own Disney screenplay. John, who composed the score for Disney's animated hit "The Lion King," did the same for the vapid Disney musical "Aida." But where "Aida" can be enjoyed for its excessive bad taste, "Lestat," for the most part, is simply not quite undead.
There may still be time to breathe some life into it before its scheduled April opening at New York's Palace Theatre. The world-premiere run at the Curran is a shakedown cruise, after all. But "Lestat" has been in previews since Dec. 17, during which one major supporting actor has been dismissed and presumably other changes have been made. It needs much more work.
Part of the problem may be the source. "Lestat" is adapted from the first two books of "The Vampire Chronicles" -- 1976's "Interview With the Vampire" and 1985's "The Vampire Lestat" -- which offer very different, often conflicting versions of three key characters. Woolverton and lyricist Bernie Taupin, John's longtime pop song collaborator, have to make those characters consistent and create a unified tone for the narrative. They're also busy -- very busy -- trying to cram as many incidents and as much information from both books into one libretto as possible.
It's too much story, with the authors almost desperately shoehorning some of Rice's plot turns, narrative flights and interminable vampire creation myths into a song here, an overstuffed confrontation there or the large-scale video animation sequences that blanket the set. The characters prove even more problematic, but then, despite her creative departures from Rice's novels, very few of the figures in Woolverton's script have much character.
Of the three who inhabit both books, Louis -- the narrator of "Interview" (which makes up most of the second act) -- is a peripheral, one-dimensional image of unrelieved angst, strongly sung by Jim Stanek. Armand, very capably performed by an enigmatically commanding Drew Sarich (the understudy for the departed Jack Noseworthy), is pretty much the fundamentalist villain he'd become in the second book. Lestat, the uncommunicative dark menace of the first book, is much more the interminably loquacious, questing vampire of the sequel.
He's the narrator of his own story, the narrative popping up on the scrim as he types his tale on a laptop -- a device that grows old very fast. As he narrates, the scene shifts from a modern office to the 18th French century estate where he was raised; to Paris, where he becomes an actor and a vampire, turns his mother and his best friend into vampires in turn, confronts Armand and leaves on his quest for deep knowledge; and eventually (we're in the second act now) settles in New Orleans, where he makes the vampires Louis and, Rice's most intriguing invention, the child vampire Claudia.
A vivid array of scenic projections -- gothic interiors, deep forests, Parisian and New Orleans cityscapes -- upholster the large moving flats and arches of Derek McLane's inventive sets (the visual concept is by graphic-novel artist Dave McKean, with sculptural lighting by Kenneth Posner). Hyperactive animation sequences less successfully serve as special effects for the battle with wolves and bloodsucking episodes. Susan Hilferty's costumes -- vivid and ghostly, historical or wildly imaginative -- help keep us apprised of where we are and when.
None of this matters much, though, unless Lestat is endlessly fascinating, which is another problem. Woolverton and Taupin have had to truncate so much story that they've barely sketched in the main character. Hugh Panaro, who plays the role, is tall, reasonably dashing and sings with a big, powerful voice, but seems lost in his long stretches of dialogue. His speech is rhythmic and unconvincing, which is all the more bothersome given Woolverton's only partial success in enlivening Rice's clunky dialogue. Nor does it help that Panaro's acting seems to consist of knitting his brows to indicate fear, confusion, anger, remorse, thirst, joy or pain.
A vibrant Carolee Carmello enlivens the stage as Lestat's mother, Gabrielle, infusing the role with great reservoirs of strength as a dying elder and wonderfully feral enthusiasm as a vampire. She exhibits a stunning range and force on her solo "Nothing Here," persuading her son to leave for Paris, and sings with great power of the thrill of the hunt in the overblown "The Crimson Kiss." But Gabrielle's stage time is too brief. Too much of the first act consists of Panaro and an attractive Roderick Hill, as best friend Nicolas, looking uncomfortable trying to figure out how homoerotic their friendship is supposed to be.
Some beautifully staged shadow-play theater bits and a masque of vampire ancient history (musical stagings by Matt West) add a bit of spice. Things pick up briefly in the second act with the arrival of Allison Fischer's eerie child, Claudia, especially with her country-rock warbled "I Want More" -- but little of her story is left, and her other big solo, "I'll Never Have That Chance," is one of John's most cloyingly syrupy concoctions. A solid-looking Michael Genet is unconvincing as the sage Marius. The chorus and orchestra perform flawlessly under Brad Haak's musical direction.
The songs, however, range from mildly interesting to, for the most part, banal and virtually undistinguishable. Taupin's lyrics are often woodenly prosaic and rarely advance the story or our understanding of the characters. When he tries to cram information into a song, as in the tale of vampire creation, "The Origin of the Species," the result is simply confusing. John seems to spend most of the evening trying to become Andrew Lloyd Webber at his most vapid and pretentious.
It's the finale that hits rock bottom. Woolverton, Taupin and John try to sum up vampire wisdom in a resolution that reunites everybody in loving-kindness. Perhaps because of Rice's recent reconversion to Catholicism, though, they don't want to get into the flirtations with atheism and heartfelt Mother Earth worship of the "Lestat" novel. What we're left with is pure bland schmaltz. For vampires, frankly, that sucks.

Robert Hurwitt

Lestat - Visually Rich
by Buzzin' Lee Hartgrave‚ Jan. 10‚ 2006


When the lights go up on the stage it is mostly bare with just a modern acrylic desk with, guess what? … an Apple Computer. At the Computer is Lestat. It’s a fun little touch before he starts biting everything in site in the 1800’s. Lestat is a problem boy in the 1800’s. His dad hates him and his mother has a kinky love relationship with her son. Dad never believes a word that Lestat says and is constantly being put down. His mom encourages him to leave to find his own life. Do things that she always wanted to do – but never had the chance. She hands him a kerchief full of Jewels to make his way in the world. With a friend (a very close male friend) Lestat gets off to a rousing start. He bumps into a guy in the woods who likes Lestat’s youthful neck and bites him, which of course turns Lestat into a Vampire.
This scene of biting is enacted over and over throughout the Musical as Lestat not only turns his “Best Friend” into a Vampire, but also his mother years later – just before she dies. He gives her immortal life. In-between all this biting the musical soars with sumptuous ground-breaking Special Effects. It will certainly be the guidepost for future musicals. You can barely take your eyes off the dazzle. It is even more spectacular than Phantom.
The first act is really like an Opera. And as an Opera it worked well. In the second act when Lestat leaves Europe for a little backward place in 1827 called New Orleans, is when all his troubles begin and his world turns against him. He finds out that even Vampires betray each other. One thing that did not work in the second act was that they seemed to run out of music. It becomes a play with music. A musical is for singing – and they should stick to a minimum of talk. Or at least write some more music. Although there are a couple of memorable songs in this musical, the reaction of the Opening Night audience did not get overworked on it. The applause was what would be called “Polite”.
But, I don’t want to keep you away from Lestat. Why not? Because the cast is exceptional. Hugh Panaro as Lestat is absolutely mesmerizing as he goes from being the “Cock of the walk”, to a broken and disillusioned Vampire. In addition. “Wicked fun” is in the show. Then there is the captivating acting, and the remarkable staging.
As for the music by Elton John – it is O.K, but not great. And, it is very derivative of other musicals. “Les Miz” and “Phantom” come to mind. Here is the problem with “Lestat”. They have not built up enough sympathy for the dashing Vampire. He is running here and there to find love – but no one seems to love him. There needs to be a song of real pain that will reach out to the audience. Sort of a “Let Him Be” song that wrings the tears out of you.
Not that they want it, but here is my advice on how to make this show better. Shave some of the scenes. Make it a tighter show. Cut down on some of the repitition. Make the scenes between Lestat and his male friends a little more erotic. He doesn’t date girls. Every time Lestat bites someone on the neck we get the same rear projections and sound. Maybe some of his victims should be dragged off stage while he is drawing blood. We saw it the first time – don’t hit us over the head with the biting scenes. Also there is a song that should be cut. The little waif Claudia who Lestat drags home as a daughter for him and Armand sings two songs. The first one is O.K. – but the second song was hard to understand, and it is unnecessary. Lestat has saved Claudia from the horrors of being an abanded child on the street. But like Rhoda in the Bad Seed she plots against him. Later on in the play she gets what she deserves. I was glad to see the ungrateful brat thrown in the fire. Keep her in – but cut the song.
The terrific ensemble cast carries this musical. Hugh Penaro is on stage almost every moment in this magical adventure. His mother Carolee Carmello is spectacular, Drew Sarich (Armand) is perfectly evil and Jim Stanek (Louis), Roderick Hill (Nicolas) and Michael Genet (Marius) bring great passion to the stage. None of this however could work without the gestures, singing and acting of Rachel Coloff, Nikki Renee
Daniels, Joseph Dellger, Collen Fitzpatrick, Chris Peluso, Megan Reinking, Will Swenson and Tommar Wilson. “Lestat” may not be for everyone. But if you are a Theater Buff – you should see it here – because the Tickets in New York are priced at $100 and $65.00 (Balcony).



'Lestat' bites
New vampire musical premieres, but needs help

 NEW WORLD: The vampire Lestat (Hugh Panaro) searches for the meaning of life in New Orleans in Elton John and Bernie Taupin's "Lestat." (SEAN CONNELLEY Staff photos)
THE TEMPTATION to say that the new vampire musical "Lestat'" sucks is almost overwhelming. But "Lestat" doesn't suck.
Oh, it's a mess all right, and though the creative team has nearly driven a wooden stake through the heart of author Anne Rice's much-loved "Vampire Chronicles," there may be some faint glimmer of an afterlife.
With a score by the phenomenally successful pop team of composer Elton John (a musical veteran of "The Lion King," "Aida" and "Billy Elliot") and lyricist Bernie Taupin (a musical neophyte), "Lestat" is already one of the most anticipated musicals of the year.
The show had its world premiere Sunday at San Francisco's Curran Theatre as part of the Best of Broadway series.
Like "Wicked" and the far less successful "Lennon" and "The Mambo Kings" before it, "Lestat" is using the Bay Area as a testing ground before heading to New York.
And for the love of Dracula, there's a whole lot of work to be done to keep this undead musical from dying.
The biggest problem in director Robert Jess Roth's jumble of a production— and the one that isn't likely to change anytime soon — is the score. John's music borrows heavily from "Les Miserables," "Phantom of the Opera" and "Jekyll and Hyde" to create a pop-classical hybrid that is rarely less than dreary and often devoid of pleasurable melody.
Taupin's lyrics are labored, overly complicated and seem to rhyme only when convenient. Simplification is the order of the day from beginning to end.
First on the list to cut should be "The Origin of the Species," a confusing production number that attempts to explain the history of vampires. And the song "To Kill Your Kind," which features pseudo-choreography straight out of Michael Jackson's "Thriller" video, is unintentionally hilarious.
There are only four times when the score breaks through its ponderous lumbering, and in a nearly three-hour show, that's not enough.
The first is when the newly made vampire Lestat bestows the dark gift on his mother,
Gabrielle. Sickly and near death, Gabrielle springs to life and brings the show along with her. It helps that Gabrielle is played by Broadway veteran Carolee Carmello, whose rich voice and passionate delivery turn her two songs, "Make Me As You Are" and "The Crimson Kiss," into the only musical highlights of Act 1.
The next sign of life is in Act 2 when Lestat moves from Paris to New Orleans. He's greeted with choral gem "The New World," the most Elton John-ish of all the show's songs.
The final bright spot comes from the child vampire Claudia, played with snap by Allison Fischer. The blood-thirsty child sings "I Want More," and she expresses beautifully the audience's need for more of the song's simple, direct lyrics and catchy melody.
The two primary female characters steal the show. It's as simple as that. But this musical isn't called "Gabrielle" or "Claudia." It's called "Lestat," and that's such a shame.
Hugh Panaro's central performance as the reckless, impulsive Vampire Lestat is astonishing — astonishingly bad. He lumbers around the stage like he just climbed off a horse. His peculiar line delivery makes him sound like English is his second language. And when he's not channeling William Shatner, he's giving a performance that would be too pulpy or melodramatic for even the most ridiculous soap opera.
We're supposed to care about Lestat, a warrior/mama's boy who becomes a vampire and makes mistake after mistake for the next hundred or so years. But Panaro — with a generous assist from Linda Woolverton's cursory book — makes Lestat less an empathetic monster and more a target of ridicule.
Panaro does have a beautiful singing voice, but John and Taupin have failed to provide him with a defining number. "The Thirst" gives him some big notes, but simply repeating, "The thirst, I feel it coming on!" is not dramatic. And though "Sail Me Away" is pretty, it's a complete go-nowhere song that's begging to be cut.
As the vampiric men in Lestat's life, Jim Stanek makes for a nearly sympathetic Louis; Roderick Hill manages to make an impression as depressive Nicolas; and Drew Sarich (a late replacement for the mysteriously dropped Jack Noseworthy) as the bad-guy vampire Armand brings the passion and voice of
 The latest trend in Broadway musicals is to eschew traditional sets in favor of video projections, and this is a trend "Lestat" embraces wholeheartedly. Dave McKean, a graphic artist best known for his work with writer Neil Gaiman, is credited with visual concept design, which includes the set (realized by Derek McLane complete with a pronounced proscenium frame that resembles an internal organ) and the costumes by Susan Hilferty.
McKean's videos have moments of power — as when someone is attacked by or transformed into a vampire — but they're used too much and end up turning the stage into what looks like a giant video game.
Also overused is the voiceover narration as "Lestat" tries to cram all three of Rice's books — "Interview with the Vampire," which makes up most of Act 2, and "The Vampire Lestat," which dominates Act 1, and a trace of "Queen of the Damned," which is jammed onto the end — into one overflowing musical.
Rice, who was in attendance on opening night with her novelist son Christopher, created a complex, interesting new take on vampire mythology in her books, revealing that, though immortal, vampires can die by exposure to sunlight or fire.
As the vampires in "Lestat" mention over and over, it's hell to live forever but even worse to go into the fire.
That's exactly where this musical is headed if major changes don't occur between here and Broadway.

By Karen D'Souza
Mercury News

``Lestat'' swooped down on San Francisco over the weekend on its way to Broadway, but, alas, the vampire musical showed few signs of life.
Necks were ravished, bodies were flung from rooftops and demons burst into flames, but it was all a bit cold-blooded (no pun intended). The fangy antihero made famous in Anne Rice's ``Vampire Chronicles'' has been reborn in a tedious tuner cursed with skin-deep characters and a listless score. Suffice to say, the corpses aren't the only ones drained of vitality. For a vampire musical, ``Lestat'' lacks teeth.
Make no mistake, Hugh Panaro is quite the undead hottie in the title role. Shaking his mane like a lion, the actor strikes one to-die-for pose after another as the flamboyant vampire. If pouts could kill, watch out. But he never finds the pulse of this role. His Lestat is neither fierce enough to scare us nor valiant enough to move us.
As the plot plods along for nearly three hours, we never know just what it is that Lestat hungers for. Clearly he's searching for something besides dinner, but it's not clear if he's after redemption or knowledge or love. It's all rather convoluted in Linda Woolverton's adaptation of the story, and the score by Elton John (music) and Bernie Taupin (lyrics) rarely illuminates matters.
Perhaps the script is too reverential to the novels, trying to cram too much into one narrative, but the action leaps through time and place without letting any of the characters sink in. The worst sin of all may be that the show takes itself so gravely seriously; a little camp would have given it some tongue-in-cheek juice.
From start to finish, ``Lestat'' works best as pure visual stimulus, from Panaro's chiseled cheekbones and Susan Hilferty's swank costumes to Dave McKean's hallucinogenic multimedia scenery. The eye drifts through a fantasyland that morphs from a winter forest to the catacombs of Paris to the docks of New Orleans.
But the filmic power of the show dwarfs its emotional resonance. The people are secondary to the stage pictures, particularly during the ``swoons'': As a vampire plunges his teeth into a victim, our eyes are drawn away from the act at hand, to images projected above.
As a result, the deaths feel impersonal, even MTV-ish. Feeding forms the backbone of the vampire lifestyle, and the show misses the high-stakes drama that these life-and-death moments might have captured.
It all adds up to a gaping chasm between us and Lestat. And since we barely care about him, his doomed relationships with such men as Nicolas (Roderick Hill) and Louis (Jim Stanek) make little mark. It doesn't help that we never understand the true nature of these connections. In fact, the sexuality in this show is so ambiguous that it's neutral. There is equally little passion in Lestat's scenes with his mother, Gabrielle (Carolee Carmello), and his nemesis, Armand (the weak Drew Sarich).
It's almost as though director Robert Jess Roth (``Beauty and the Beast'') wanted to play it safe with these vampires, lest he turn anyone off with anything even remotely disturbing or perverse. But surely that's the reason we're so fascinated with the myth in the first place, because we crave a taste of the dark side.
The score is likewise bland, a collection of same-sounding, easy-listening anthems that should please Sir Elton fans (they'll especially like ``Sail Me Away'') but that do little to move the story forward or give us any insight to the characters. ``Welcome to the New World'' is so chirpy it's jarring. The choreography in the ``To Kill Your Kind'' number feels vaguely reminiscent of Michael Jackson's ``Thriller'' video with its twitching ghoulies.
Only rarely, as in the child Claudia's songs, does the musical hit a vein. ``I Want More'' mixes shades of comedy and horror with a macabre zest the show mostly lacks, and ``I'll Never Have that Chance'' strikes a genuinely touching chord.
Sung with naked emotion by Allison Fischer, who taps believably into the bratty brutality of a 10-year-old fiend, these songs give us a few tantalizing hints of what the musical might have been, but sadly isn't -- a bloody good time. Unless its creators can find a way to infuse more intensity, ``Lestat'' may be dead on arrival on Broadway in the spring.

Difficult to sink teeth into unconvincing 'Lestat'
By Georgia Rowe

When dealing with vampires, it's usually best to keep your neck covered and your garlic handy. "Lestat" proves the exception to the rule. The greatest danger in the new Elton John-Bernie Taupin musical, based on "The Vampire Chronicles" by Anne Rice, is death by boredom.
If there was a good reason to bring Rice's immortal title character to the stage, it remained obscure by the end of Sunday night's bloodless three-hour opening performance at the Curran Theatre. The musical, which makes its world premiere in this production, continues in San Francisco through Jan. 29 and is scheduled to open on Broadway this spring. Caveat emptor, New York.
"Lestat" follows the outline of Rice's original story, which begins in 18th century France. There Lestat, still a young man, kills eight wolves in a pack, attracting the attention (and admiration) of uber-vampire Magnus. With their first encounter, Lestat is given the "crimson kiss" of immortal life. He dallies in Paris, travels to New Orleans in the early 19th century and eventually returns to Europe -- looking for love, killing time, passing the curse and leaving a trail of new vampires in his wake.
It's a great story, but, as directed by Robert Jess Roth (with "musical staging" by Matt West), the new show doesn't capture the romance or the otherworldly qualities of Rice's novel. It's more corny than scary, and it doesn't approach Rice's sense of authenticity. Hampered by cheesy production values and an uneven cast, the staging is unconvincing at best.
Linda Woolverton's book, which turns much of the spoken dialogue into hackneyed cliches, doesn't help. And the John-Taupin score -- the famous songwriting duo's first effort for the stage -- gives it the kiss of death.
It's not that the 15 songs are bad. They're listenable, and they're capably played by an 18-piece band conducted by Brad Haak. They're just not memorable. Stylistically, John and his lyricist veer between treacly ballads and foursquare pop songs, with nothing in between; after an hour or so, it all starts to sound the same.
The designs, however, are the chief disappointment. Derek McLane's sets don't deliver the kind of detail one hopes for in a big Broadway musical. Susan Hilferty's costumes are run-of-the-mill, and Kenneth Posner's lighting is predictably lurid. It all looks decidedly low-budget; the production relies heavily on scrims and rear projections -- a red, squishy-looking interior shot of a blood vessel, for instance, whenever Lestat sinks his teeth into someone's neck.
None of this would have mattered quite so much if the show's producers had given "Lestat" a strong title character. But Hugh Panaro -- whose slight build, narrow face and long blond wig suggest Michael Bolton's anemic younger brother -- makes a bland, oddly one-dimensional vampire. This Lestat tells you how dangerous and passionate he is, but the heat just doesn't come across the footlights. His singing is clear and muscular, but largely uninflected.
The curtain opens on Panaro, dressed in a business suit, standing in front of a chrome and Lucite desk and staring out the window at a city skyscraper. It's a contemporary scene, and when he opens his laptop and starts typing -- "It's time this vampire shares his story with the world," he sings -- the moment gets a laugh. That scene sets the tone for the rest of the evening.
The core problem with "Lestat" is that it doesn't know what it wants to be. Is it heart-thumping drama, or tongue-in-cheek comedy? The loudest audience response of the night came in the second act, when Claudia (the assured Allison Fischer), Lestat's adopted 10-year-old vampire "daughter," sang "I Want More." It's a campy little number about insatiable blood lust, and Fischer sings it with plenty of bratty, petulant attitude.
The rest of the cast struggles to bring the show to life, with varying degrees of success. As Lestat's mother, Gabrielle, Carolee Carmello sings powerfully and makes the passage from mortal to vampire persuasive. Drew Savich is a subtle Armand, but Jim Stanek chews the scenery to annoying effect as Lestat's New Orleans lover, Louis. Roderick Hill is overmatched, vocally and dramatically, as Nicolas; Michael Genet's awkward presence and wooden delivery make Marius seem more like Lestat's accountant than his dark master.
In most of the scenes, Roth and company settle for a turgid kind of melodrama, albeit without the usual vampire trappings. There are no pointy teeth and no bats. The vampires look like everyday mortals; by evening's end, Lestat still has the same benign, milky look he started with. No one flies, and the only stake through the heart comes in an over-the-top parody of a vampire stage play (Lestat haunts the theaters of Paris, and when he liberates a group of underground vampires, he immediately advises them to become actors).
One of the most telling scenes comes during Lestat's time in the New World. Ensconced in his New Orleans digs, surrounded by velvet and brocades, the elegantly dressed vampire is reading Bram Stoker's "Dracula." He laughs at the book's depiction of his people; particularly amusing, he says, are Stoker's claims that vampires can turn to steam to pass through keyholes and fly through the air like bats.
One can understand his derision, but let's give credit where credit is due. Stoker may not have made his Dracula fully human. But at least he knew how to create dramatic atmosphere.


Bloody awful
‘Lestat’ stage adaptation proves anemic
By Tiger Hashimoto
Special to The Examiner
Published: Monday, January 9, 2006 10:24 PM PST

If you are eagerly reading this review to find out how well the musical “Lestat” lives up to its source material — Anne Rice’s popular “Vampire Chronicles” — you’d best move on. I didn’t read the book (or see the movie) so my impressions are based only on what I heard at the official world premiere, Sunday at the Curran Theatre.
“Lestat,” which is headed to Broadway after its San Francisco tryout, will have to please nonvampire fans with its book by Linda Woolverton and its Elton John-Bernie Taupin score. John’s vapid ballads have had lot of help from Steve Margoshes and Guy Babylon (orchestrations), Brad Haak (incidental music) and Todd Ellison (vocal arrangements).
Woolverton’s book is clear enough. Lestat (Hugh Panaro, all cheekbones and attitude) is a wild French youth who defies his oppressive father and runs off to Paris to become an actor and live with his best friend, the depressive violinist Nicolas (Roderick Hill).
It takes a while to realize that they are more than just “friends.” In fact, the show’s entire premise is homoerotic. After Lestat is “made” as a vampire (without any warning or motivation), he mostly kills men in grisly, on-stage murders that had me cowering and wincing — and I’m a martial arts fan.
The rest of the time he is whining about why everybody leaves him. How about because he has the personality of a narcissistic male model, is casually cold and cruel and only cares about those he can “make” into vampires — his mother Gabrielle (Carolee Carmello), Louis, his New Orleans lover (Jim Stanek) and Claudia, the child he plucks off the street (Allison Fischer).
Claudia epitomizes what is wrong with this show dramatically and morally. At first she appears as an innocent blond twinkee. Then she sings a foul song about blood called “I Want More.” Just as you think this over-the-top raunch is good for the plot, Claudia switches to a saccharine ballad, “I’ll Never Have That Chance,” about how being a vampire precludes walking down the aisle and having babies.
The vocal performances — especially Carmello — are strong. The production has atmospheric sets (Derek McLane) and costumes (Susan Hilferty). The special effects are unrelentingly noisy and violent.
In fact, the high level of aural and moral toxicity — blended with talky religious mumbo-jumbo (are vampires evil? Maybe not, but they are boring) — may just guarantee “Lestat’s” Broadway fate.

Theater Review

Lestat *½

(Curran Theater, San Francisco; 1,665 seats; $90 top)
A Warner Bros. Theater Ventures presentation of a musical in two acts, with music by Elton John, lyrics by Bernie Taupin, book by Linda Woolverton, based on "The Vampire Chronicles" by Anne Rice. Directed by Robert Jess Roth. Musical staging, Matt West.
Lestat - Hugh Panaro
Gabrielle - Carolee Carmello
Armand - Drew Sarich
Louis - Jim Stanek
Nicolas - Roderick Hill
Marius - Michael Genet
Claudia - Allison Fischer

Hugh Panaro vamps as Lestat in the musical adaptation of Anne Rice's novels, with music by Elton John.

The very idea of an Anne Rice-derived vampire musical scored by Elton John would seem to ensure something lurid, camp, silly. But those qualities, it turns out, are not found in great supply in the Broadway-bound "Lestat" -- an achievement in itself, though also cause for some disappointment. The current handsome, respectable entity could, in fact, use a tad more risk-taking excess. Despite subject and talent involved, it's lacking the memorable high points this watchable, listenable nearly three-hour tunertuner needs to play as more than a rambling timeline of several high-pulp novels' picaresque events.
Still, the last time a major musical fantasy did its tryout in San Francisco, it seemed similarly not quite there yet -- and things turned out A-OK for "Wicked""Wicked" despite mixed critical response in GothamGotham. Whether "Lestat" can repeat that scenario (or the long-run success of John's prior stage tuners) may well depend on the tweaking done before a planned Broadway launch in March. As one creative staffer was overheard telling friends in the audience on opening night, right now it's a "good rough cut" in need of fine-tuning.
The biggest problem here is, however, insurmountable: Condensing much of Rice's "Vampire Chronicle" fictions (mostly "Interview With the Vampire" and "The Vampire Lestat"), tuner "Lestat" has way too much plot to wade through. Titular figure aside, characters come and go without creating involving narrative or emotional arcs. The attempt to arrive at some sort of lesson-learning in an "inspirational" fadeout risks unintentional laughter while repping a poor stab at thematic unification. Too much scrim-scrolled text (the framing device is Lestat writing his history on a laptop), projected "chapter" titles, etc., further emphasize that, in structural terms, this source material is not natural stage fodder.
Yet awareness of that core flaw could be deflected if "Lestat" had more moments of transcendent flamboyance than Robert Jess Roth's production currently sports. Upping the show's sexiness (nothing this deliberately homoerotic should be so stingy with male skin), scariness and Grand Guignol grotesquerie would be a good start. Scaling back its "kinder/gentler" take on vampire emotions would be another.
Dullish first scenes have young 18th century French aristo Lestat (Hugh Panaro) urged by mother Gabrielle (Carolee Carmello) to flee his father's provincial tyranny and create his own destiny. He does, becoming a matinee idol in Paris while violin-playing best friend Nicolas (Roderick Hill) pines in the background -- the first of Lestat's whiny, needy, almost-but-not-quite-blatant male "companions."
Things liven up when Lestat is chosen as "heir" by a rich vampire who then immolates himself. This sets an unfortunate precedent for our undead hero -- still human enough to feel empathy and need love, he's continually deserted by those who can't stomach "everlasting youth."
He converts Nicolas, then mom, then -- in the "New World" of 19th century New Orleans -- melancholy young widower Louis (Jim Stanek) and foundling Claudia (Allison Fischer). The latter, a "bad seed" enraged by permanent childhood, nearly destroys her maker. But he survives to witness harsh justice meted out to both her and to the vampire Armand (Drew Sarich, who replaced Jack Noseworthy late in the rehearsal process) of whom he'd made an enemy some years before.
Like his prior musical theater (and animated film) scores, John's latest operates solidly within a contempo idiom without ever equaling the distinctive personality or catchiness of his '70s work with Bernie Taupin -- who here capably replaces Tim Rice as collaborating lyricist. A mainstream pop tenor abruptly emerges in post-intermission opener "Welcome to the New World," rather too obviously designed as the breakout single. Later solos, notably Claudia's "I'll Never Have That Chance" and Lestat's "Sail Me Away," are wannabe showstoppers of a too-generic ilk.
Visually, "Lestat" is "crimson-kiss" plush, with Susan Hilferty's costumes and Kenneth Posner's lighting especially praiseworthy. The epic sprawl of incidents necessitates a fast-changing set design by Derek McLane that creates some impressively baroque images. More variably successful is the frequent deployment of slide and film projections (presumably the work of "visual concept" designer Dave McKean) that too often resemble videogame graphics or fiery Dianetics commercials.
It's hard to determine the exact contribution of Matt West for "musical staging," apart from a couple parodic sequences at the Paris Theater of the Vampires that pleasantly hew closer to conventional "numbers."
If a vocally impressive cast fails to add needed star magnetism, blame the episodic storyline -- not Linda Woolverton's adequate book, but the cluttered source materials she had to work with. Stanek and Hill are stuck being forever-complaining lovers grousing over their immortal lot. Carmello and Fischer are just OK. Rather less than that is Michael Genet, whose senior vampire Marius gets a great entrance but carries himself with self-defeating pompousness.
Handsome Panaro (a veteran of "The Phantom of the Opera," whose goth-romantic tone this show clearly emulates) is much more engaging once long-maned Lestat passes the angst torch to his underlings, leaving him free to flash some jaded, bemused wit. Which is something this too-earnest musical could use more of.
Set, Derek McLane; costumes, Susan Hilferty; lighting, Kenneth Posner; sound, Jonathan Deans; visual concept design, Dave McKean; wigs & hair, Tom Watson; makeup, Angelina Avallone; fight director, Rick Sordelet; projections coordinator, Howard Werner; musical supervisor, Guy Babylon; orchestrations, Steve Margoshes, Babylon; incidental music arrangement/music direction, Brad Haak; music coordinator, John Miller; vocal arrangements, Todd Ellison; production stage manager, Bonnie L. Becker. Opened, reviewed Jan. 8, 2005. Running time: 2 HOURS, 45 MIN.
With: Rachel Coloff, Nikki Renee Daniels, Joseph Dellger, Colleen Fitzpatrick, Chris Peluso, Megan Reinking, Will Swenson, Tommar Wilson.
Musical numbers: "From the Dead," "Nothing Here," "In Paris," "In Paris" (reprise), "The Thirst," "The Thirst" (reprise), "Make Me as You Are," "To Live Like This," "The Origin of the Species," "The Crimson Kiss," "The Thirst" (reprise), "Welcome to the New World," "Embrace It," "I Want More," "I'll Never Have That Chance," "Sail Me Away," "To Kill Your Kind," "Embrace It" (reprise), "After All This Time," "From the Dead (Finale)."