By Elexa Kopty:
Move over Buffalo bigwigs, there's a new musical coming to town.
In one week, American Repertory Theatre of WNY in collaboration with Theatre Jugend and Steven Sitzman will unveil the world premiere of "The Dead English".
Based on Bram Stoker's Dracula, the original musical adaptation is written, composed and directed by three young men from Buffalo. I sat in on a rehearsal and got a sneak peak of the project, and now I'm counting down the days until I can see the show in its entirety. In a theatre community small enough that everybody knows everybody, it's a brave pursuit to reinvent a literary icon, not to mention make him sing and dance. Justin Karcher (book and lyrics), Steven Sitzman (music composition) and Drew McCabe (director) are taking a chance, and I've got to say, they really have something here.
The guys have all worked in Buffalo theatre in the past. Steve has performed in several local theatre companies, while writing and directing duo Justin and Drew have produced a few adaptations before. This, however, is their first musical. When asked about the process, not a single person involved seemed to be able to avoid using two key words: organic and collaborative. Justin would write a scene and lyrics, then send his work to Steve who would put it to music. Before they knew it, they had gone from ten songs to over twenty and had a fully stageable musical on their hands.
The collective efforts didn't stop in the drawing room. Justin and Steve explained that the rehearsals often served as an extension of the developmental process, in both the story and the music. An actor's input was encouraged, things were rewritten, added, removed, and in turn together the team has created something that they can truly be proud of. Justin described this as the biggest difference between his past adaptations and their current project. "This isn't just something that's written by me and directed by Drew. It's way more collective than anything we've ever done," he explained.
When deciding to take on Dracula, Justin, who holds a Master's degree in English, went straight to the source. He explored (and often invented) the character motives from the novel in order to expand from the original and create a fresh yet authentic story. "I really just tried to locate the beating heart of the book and draw from it," he says, and the music really seems to highlight this. Steve describes the songs he's written as "acoustic-pop meets musical theatre," which doesn't seem to fit the bill of gothic novel at first but works surprisingly well.
The modern approach toward the classic work seems to humanize the characters, even Dracula, and revives them so that a modern audience will be on the edge of their seats through a story where they already know the ending. It's also set in a church, which seems to really serve the story and heighten the creepy factor.
The cast of twelve is engaging and enthusiastic about the project, which was clear from the second they walked into rehearsal. Stage manager Matt Chavez puts things into perspective when he explains perhaps the most valuable aspect of this project; that this is a group effort by a group of passionate, young artists - a valuable commodity in Buffalo. And they're willing to stay here and do this, create something here for the people of this city. Instead of waiting around for something to happen for them, they're taking matters into their own hands.
The show runs at the Episcopal Church of the Ascension on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays from October 18th to November 10th with a special showing on Halloween. It's a festive activity that allows you to support the arts, so make sure not to miss it. And who knows, you might be witnessing a history in the making.
Episcopal Church of the Ascension
16 Linwood Ave (Corner of North Street)
October 18th to November 10th and Halloween
All shows start at 8pm