REVIEWS: 'Dracula,' 'Singin' in the Rain,' and Tony DeSare

September 22, 2011
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With candy and costumes already lining the aisles in department stores, technically it isn’t inappropriate for the Indiana Repertory Theatre to launch its season with “Dracula” (which runs through Oct. 1, well short of Halloween). I shouldn’t be surprised that the result is, well, costumed candy.

Highlights include atmospheric music (by, I kid you not, Gregg Coffin), lovely period costumes, clever special effects and a game cast. The primary deficit is playwright Steven Dietz’s adaptation, which lacks a cohesive style—an issue I’ve noted with other works of his staged here recently. It opens with inmate Renfield offering self-reflexive references to the author, features epistolary moments that pop out of nowhere, and seems unambitious in mining both the laughs and the chills inherent in the familiar story. It boasts of being closer to Bram Stoker’s original than other versions, but fidelity isn’t nearly as important as theatricality.

The lead vampire is less Bela Lugosi and more Gary Oldman (although with the face of the Cat in the Hat), which is neither a good nor a bad thing, just unmemorable. The vampire hunters aren’t given much to do besides play to type.

On the victim side, Lee Stark offers a girl-next-door Mina and Jennifer Joan Thompson a passionate Lucy, but neither proves as compelling as the briefly seen pair of writhing Vixens (Lisa Ermel and Leah DeWalt), who have already succumbed to Dracula’s allure. With more of their energy, this “Dracula” might have had more bite.

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“Singin’ in the Rain,” running through Oct. 9 at Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre, makes clear why the musical is celebrated as a movie and not as a stage show.

Yes, all the familiar songs are here and most are pleasantly sung and danced. And, yes, there’s rain on stage during the titular number. But the adapters of the film—and this is no fault of B&B—opted to err on the side of surface fidelity. They captured the words, music and choreographic ideas but not the spirit of the film. As such, it can’t help but feel secondhand.

Still, there’s fun to be had in the goofy silent-movie video, a pile of beloved songs, and the giddy performance of Sarah Hund as Lina Lamont, the silent-movie starlet whose ear-piercing massacres of the English language make a Hollywood studio fearful of the transition to talkies. Interesting that her song, not in the film, proves to be one of this production’s highlights.

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Even if he didn't sing "I Love a Piano" (which he did), Tony DeSare left no doubt about his feelings toward the instrument during his Sept. 17 performance at the Cabaret at the Columbia Club.

In a vibrant program focused primarily on love songs, the crooner/pianist/songwriter simultaniously stamped and respected classics such as "Moon River," "Georgia on My Mind," and  "They Can't Take that Away from Me." While in terrific voice, he also spent ample time taking playful keyboard turns, accentuating both the standards and the originals.

The most engaging of the later, surprisingly, was "East to the Sea," a tune DeSare wrote as an ad for Long Island's Hamptons Jitney Bus. It sends a clear message that there's as much Billy Joel as Frank Sinatra in this up-and-comer. And maybe, as a composer, there's a musical or two in his future.

In a nod to the theater across the Circle, DeSare credited the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra's Jack Everly for the bump his career has taken after being booked for an ISO Irving Berlin pops tribute a few years back. DeSare now performs regularly at New York's Carlyle Hotel and will play Carnegie Hall with the New York Pops in October. Here's hoping he makes Indianapolis a regular stop.

Your thoughts?

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  • But he did...
    DeSare sang "I Love a Piano" at the end of his concert, as a request, on September 17th. It was a fantastic, bravura piano performance framed on both ends by the vocal line of the song...it was an excellent performance all night from DeSare.....
    • Singin in the Rain
      I'm a big fan of the movie and wondered if it could transition to the stage. It was very enjoyable and Sara Hund stole the show! I liked the addition of her song and the exclusion of the Gene Kelly/Cyd Charisse ballet number. Great entertainment!
    • Jazz at the Orpheum
      Just saw Tony Desare last night (Jan 28, 2012) in Vancouver, BC Canada and he did his take on "I love a Piano". Wow!

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