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Baroque Modern

Vampires, with all their attendant darkness, sensuality, decadence, and existential complexity, always carry the promise of a good show. The vampire theme, like vampires themselves, is eerily eternal and disturbingly familiar. Perhaps it's one of the elemental story lines embedded in our collective unconscious, if there is such a thing. The collaboration of Anne Rice (novel), Elton John (music), and Bernie Taupin (lyrics) did not disappoint, and there are many surprises in this work.

Lestat, based on characters and incidents from Anne Rice's novels Interview with the Vampire and The Vampire Lestat is the story of an earnest young man who has immortality thrust upon him in the form of vampirehood. The character of Lestat, superbly played by Hugh Parano, is like any complex tortured superhero, at once godlike and wrenchingly human -- by turns valiant, devoted, narcissistic, vicious, callous, clinging, seductive, helpless, and brave.

The arc of the story, which in a baroque sense might have been about the struggle with love and immortality, seems in the modern sense to be all about what might be called "fear of abandonment" in a twelve step program. The vampires of Lestat are people too, and have a need for love as a deeply rooted as anyone. The exigencies of the vampire cosmology -- like when you can die, what immortality means, how to reconcile good and evil, and loyalty to fellow vampires -- are as illogical and mystical as Christianity, and probably a good deal more complicated. But it doesn't really matter in Lestat, because, like a telenovella, there's always another emotional crisis lurking in the wings to move the action along.

Putting aside a few questions of musical style, in scale and sensibility, Lestat is essentially a modern baroque opera. Elton John's voice is evident, but not overwhelming. The baroque aspects of his songwriting -- kaleidoscopic key changes, fondness for keyboards, and smarmy sentimentality -- are all perfectly appropriate here. The music could have been stronger with a different composer perhaps, but it would have changed the nature of the production, not to mention its box office appeal. What I found missing was darkness, minor keys, counterpoint, thematic development, and, unfortunately, "hummable" tunes (there are really only one or two in the entire piece). There's a good dose of "Circle of Life" sunshine, but not too much. The music carries the story not with melody, but with harmony, texture, and color.

Lesat hits high notes in every department, and the overall effect is much more powerful than the sum of its parts. The cast is flawless -- there are no weak players. Each actor has a sure, clear singing and speaking voice, excellent delivery, and commanding stage presence. The sets are evocative, transcendent, and luminous. The lighting and multimedia effects are probably the best I've ever seen in theater -- they heighten the action, delineate internal emotional reality, and become an integral part of the story. All in all, this is an excellent show -- I had multiple goosebump moments. I will be surprised if it doesn't smash New York in short order.

Curran Theater
Through January 29
Shows Daily
Tickets: $30 - $90