vampires

While one could say that “The Cure” is coat-tailing on the vampire-romance bandwagon, it has considerably more intriguing and deep themes than any other Twilight/True Blood knockoff.  Premiering at the Woodlawn Theatre this past weekend, the vampiric rock-opera incorporates an elaborate set design involving a turntable centerpiece, a live band, and aerial choreography by ZFX to present a musical that’s truly unique in its own right, even if it tends to have some conflicted themes.

An official selection of 2009’s New York Musical Theatre Festival, we follow the story of Gray (Matt Lisber), a failed writer suffering through another battle with cancer, as he’s taken alongside his friend Alex (Ben Carlee) into to a nightclub in an abandoned sanctuary that is in fact the haven of the last surviving vampires.  As the two characters interact and mingle with these bloodthirsty nightcrawlers, questions of love and immortality are raised as an even greater fight for survival between the old patriarch (Kurt Wehner) and the violent usurper Rypien (Brian Carmack) is set in motion.

The creator of the musical, New York playwright Mark Weiser, believes that the underlying theme of vampirism is the cost of immortality and wanted to explore that aspect more so than the more primitive, lustful appeal of these creatures of the night. 

Among the main characters, that’s certainly true.  There’s a reserved intimacy among them that lends a sense of genuine doubt and aspirations.  The novice vampire Sasha (local musician Mars Wright) sees his “condition” as a chance at a new life, a prospect that appeals to Alex, leading the two to elope with one another.  On the opposite end though is Unique (Ashtyn Sonner), who craves a walk out in the sun after her “condition” forced upon her and sees a way out with Gray, both romantically and literally.

And yet that’s where the conflict in themes occur, mainly in the usage of the company. 

By having all of your characters being deep, even articulate, souls, it seems odd that they’re surrounded by relatively mindless sensual deviants.  It’d would be like if the vampires from Twilight suddenly turned into bats in the third book for no explainable reason.

As the play is still a work in progress, as it is tentatively scheduled for an off-Broadway premiere in Spring 2012, I would hope that the role of the company is further developed or at least kept within the reserved approach to vampirism that the musical captures quite well.  Also, the character of Anya, played by Jovi Lee, seems underdeveloped or even the victim of the editing room considering in a play comprised of six main roles that she herself doesn’t even have her own song or monologue.

Aesthetically though, the musical’s a site to behold.  Incorporating the exterior castle left over from the Woodlawn’s recent production of “Rocky Horror Picture Show” and a newly installed lighting system, the sanctuary is one of the most impressive local sets I’ve ever seen, even featuring a second floor with a live band, of whom I wish was incorporated more seamlessly with the music.

But is the music good, you might ask.  For the most part, the songs work, including the techno-infused “In Here”, the empowering “Forever Burn”, and the love ballad between Unique and Gray as their relationship consummates.  The most powerful song though is “New Religion” as sung by Sasha, a song that transcends the story and can be applied to anyone’s personal struggle, which I believe is the ultimate achievement for a musical song.

Matt Lisber does an admirable job as Gray, capturing the everyman aspect of his character.  Brian Carmack, curiously the only blonde among a coven full of brunettes, brings bravado and intensity to the dangerous Rypien.  However, the fan-favorite of the play will likely be Ben Carlee’s turn as Alex, bringing an extremely refined voice and jovial pizzaz to a musical that plays almost exclusively to the dramatic.

San Antonio should consider itself fortunate that we have our own sneak preview at a high-flying Broadway-quality production.  With a few fluffs and tucks here and there, this play may just make it.

The play will be running through March 13th, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 PM and Sundays at 3:00 PM at 1920 Fredericksburg Rd.  Tickets run at $22; bring an issue of The Paisano with you for two dollars off.

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