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Vlad to be of service to Transylvania

Tom Hewitt earned a Tony nomination for playing the 'sweet transvestite' from that storied place. Now he's a singing Dracula.

August 15, 2004|Jan Breslauer | Special to The Times

New York — It's gloomy and gray, and the rain is coming down in sheets. An ominous crash of low-rumbling thunder resounds outside. An even more ominous crash of indeterminate origin resounds within the Belasco Theater, where technical rehearsals for "Dracula, the Musical" are underway.

The atmosphere on this mid-July day is grim and gothic, in keeping with the 1897 Bram Stoker novel on which the musical is based. Even the theater is perfectly cast: It's a somewhat creepy place, where ghosts of outsized spectacles past lurk amid the dark woodwork, Tiffany light fixtures and strange paintings.

None of this disturbs the bloodsucker himself, who is tucked away in his lair, also known as Dressing Room 1. Tom Hewitt plays the toothsome Count, and when you've bitten as many necks as he has, a little doom and gloom around the tomb is all in a day's work.

Composed by Frank Wildhorn, with book and lyrics by Don Black and Christopher Hampton, "Dracula, the Musical" will open Thursday at the Belasco, directed by Des McAnuff.

The show premiered to mixed reviews in 2001 at La Jolla Playhouse, where McAnuff is artistic director. At the time, plans were announced to bring it to the Broadway Theatre that spring. However, those plans were scrapped, and the intervening years have been used to revamp it.

Perhaps because of the long wait for Dracula's return, Hewitt isn't yet making himself fully at home in his Belasco dressing room. "We really haven't settled in," he says, by way of explaining the absence of personal belongings or even much sign of occupancy. There's a baroque but beat-up mirror on the wall, a single flying harness hanging on a rack, and a lonely Vlad the Impaler doll on the dressing table.

"Maybe there's a little superstition in that regard," he continues. "You might get all settled, and of course karmically that means we'll close. A lot of people feel superstitious about moving into a dressing room too soon."

Just how long a life -- or "Life After Life," as the Act 1 finale calls it -- "Dracula" will enjoy is, of course, yet to be determined. But there is no such uncertainty about Hewitt's stature as one of Broadway's lights.

This tall man from Montana is known for his stint as the villainous Scar in "The Lion King" and for his Tony-nominated turn as Frank N. Furter, the "sweet transvestite from Transsexual, Transylvania" in "The Rocky Horror Show." Most recently, he played Officer Lockstock in the national tour of "Urinetown."

"Musicals are a relatively new thing for me," Hewitt says. "I didn't do many until 1998, when I was in 'The Lion King.' I've always felt that I could sing pretty well for an actor, but I never ever considered myself a Broadway singer."

Call it Transylvanian typecasting, but Hewitt seems to have cornered the market on larger-than-life nasties.

"I'm 6 feet 3 inches tall; I'm classically trained. I've played a lot of kings and royalty and mythological characters," he explains. "Apparently, if there's a monster in a musical, I get the call. That seems to be my niche at present."

Naturalism? No, thanks

Stoker based his novel on vampire legends and Central European tales of the "nosferatu," or undead. Dracula, a mysterious and supernaturally seductive count from Transylvania, must suck the blood of innocent victims to sustain himself. The book is written largely in the form of journal entries by the main characters, including Jonathan Harker, a young man who comes to Castle Dracula; Mina, Harker's fiancee, whom Dracula desires; Lucy, one of his victims; and various other people who seek to stop the Count.

It's a story that requires a very strong leading persona -- and a perfect fit for Hewitt's particular combination of charisma and theatricality. "He's contributed a vast amount," says McAnuff. "He's very charismatic and very sexy. Once in a while, an actor comes along that really inspires you. I would do almost anything with this actor. He's one of the main reasons for all of us -- producers, creators -- continuing with this project."

"I don't have a lot of interest in naturalistic roles," says the actor, looking decidedly unflashy in a pale red shirt and shorts. "I used to say that I'm a character actress trapped in a leading man's body. I have always been drawn to the outsider. So I'm delighted, after a string of romantic leading men, to be able to move into the Scar-Frank N. Furter-Dracula stuff."

As he sits in his dressing room discussing the Count, Hewitt's conversation is punctuated by the stage manager's voice crackling over an intercom.

"OK, folks, we've got to move the coffins offstage. Please be aware. Objects will be moving."

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