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Musical tells why 1897 ‘Dracula’ failed to draw blood

Musical tells why 1897 ‘Dracula’ failed to draw blood

Before Scottish author Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” was published as a book, he presented it as a play at
Musical tells why 1897 ‘Dracula’ failed to draw blood
Rosie Spring, David Braucher and Johnny Martinez, holding Spring, rehearse a scene from "Dracula's Grandmother," opening Friday at Fort Salem Theater. (Photo provided)

Before Scottish author Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” was published as a book, he presented it as a play at the Lyceum Theater in London in 1897.

That production ran for just one performance.

Fast forward to today and Jay Kerr’s new play, “Dracula’s Grandmother: A Musical Fable,” which tells the story of that misstep from long ago.

“I’m figuring since it ran for one performance it must have been pretty bad,” said Kerr, the owner and artistic director at Fort Salem Theater for the past nine summers.

‘Dracula’s Grandmother’

WHERE: Fort Salem Theater, 11 East Broadway, Salem

WHEN: Opens Friday and runs through Aug. 16; performances 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday.

HOW MUCH: $30-$15

MORE INFO: 854-9200, www.fortsalemtheater.com

“What we’re doing is discovering why the show was such a flop. They had a great cast, and the derivation of the book is very theatrical. My play is about actors and immortality, and our fascination with vampires. It’s our one original show of the season and we hope people will enjoy it.”

A Princeton grad and composer and lyricist who worked in New York City for two decades before heading upstate to start his own theater company, Kerr said his work benefits greatly from Stoker’s original effort.

“It’s as though Bram Stoker wrote part of it because we’re using all the elements of a horror story,” he said. “But it’s also a musical comedy, so we have those elements in it, too. We’re trying to incorporate all of those things into it, so it’s as if it was written by Mel Brooks and Bram Stoker.”

Stoker’s short-lived stage version had some of England’s brightest stars at the time. In Kerr’s play, David Braucher plays Henry Irving, the person who inspired the character of Dracula and portrayed him on stage, just once. Johnny Martinez plays Stoker. Also in the cast are Rosie Spring, Gail Garrison and Jared Barton.

“I start out with the premise that this production had some real powerhouses with some actual historical characters, and then just totally flopped,” said Kerr, who is also directing the production. “I had to do a small amount of research for all the history and then created a story to go along with it.”

Stoker’s story is about the vampire Count Dracula, who moves from Transylvania to England in search of new blood to spread the “undead” curse. In Kerr’s play, the action focuses on Stoker and his troupe preparing to tell that story on stage, the various people who insisted on being cast in the play, and how that led to its failure.

Reach Gazette reporter Bill Buell at 395-3190 or [email protected]

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