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Lestat

Sunday, January 29, 2006 at 2:00pm
Curran Theatre
San Francisco, CA

Lestat   Hugh Panaro
Gabrielle   Carolee Carmello
Armand   Drew Sarich
Louis   Jim Stanek
Nicolas   Roderick Hill
Marius   Michael Genet
Claudia   Allison Fischer
Ensemble   Rachel Coloff, Nikki Renée Daniels, Joseph Dellger, Colleen Fitzpatrick, Chris Peluso, Megan Reinking, Will Swenson, Tommar Wilson

What in the world compelled me to go see Lestat, after seeing the less-than-stellar reviews in the San Francisco area? I'm not sure -- perhaps it was the fact that it was hyped up so much, that the music written by Elton John, that the story is based on Anne Rice's books about vampires, that it was Hugh Panaro in the lead role? Or some combination of the above.

Obviously, the show has since gone to Broadway, been re-written drastically, and then closed in May 2006. Problems still weighed down the show, and even though some of the revisions helped move the story along better than in San Francisco, other revisions clearly were not enough to tie it all together into a neat little package.

The biggest problem of the San Francisco version was the lack of a clear story. It was somewhat difficult to get a grasp on the characters' motivations at times, or sometimes they didn't seem enough to drive some of the characters' actions. Also, the end is where I had another big problem. What kind of end is that? Lestat realizes that he was selfish and vows to never make another vampire for himself -- okay, but what does that have to do with drinking Akasha's blood? I also didn't understand Marius' role in the story, aside from being the object of Lestat's obsessive search to learn how live forever without going insane from the loneliness. And then, once Lestat found Marius, Marius sent him away to live a mortal's lifetime, the purpose of which was not entirely clear. Yes, there is nothing like personal experience, especially dealing with sorrow and loss, to teach you about living life, but once Lestat was defeated and broken (emotionally and physically) by Armand, Marius led him to Akasha and Enkil. For what purpose???

Some of the sets were somewhat inappropriate for this kind of show. The covering for the proscenium arch was this very lush, dark red velvet that I suppose was symbolic of the role of blood in the story, but didn't really fit in well. Many of the "special effects" for fire or Lestat "seeing" the images of the lives of his victims or those he made when he drank their blood were accomplished with long curtains that were illuminated by video projections. I can understand the animation for fire (as they probably didn't have means to have real fire on stage at that point, which I think they later did on Broadway), but the rest of it became too much. The video projections were too large and too long/frequent, and it seemed like I was watching a movie rather than watching a live theatre performance.

There were a few songs that were good, or at least had potential, but there were others that were almost painful to listen and/or watch. Most notably, "Welcome to the New World" just seemed completely out of place -- I mean, I can see writing a song to reflect the music of the locale, but it still has to flow. You wouldn't write a jazz piece to go in an opera, even if it takes place in America. "In Paris", although changed so that the end verses were by the ensemble portraying people in Paris, felt too long and repetitive. The same goes for "I'll Never Have that Chance", which actually has a very nice melody that I liked and a sad theme, but it was painfully repetitive, using too many very similar examples to illustrate a point. "The Origin of the Species" was just plain boring (it was a history lesson set to music), and it along with "To Kill Your Kind" were afflicted with the ensemble repetitively re-iterating certain phrases that just got annoying. In general, the score wasn't terrible, but there were times when it just seemed uninspired.

On the upside, both of Gabrielle's songs, "Nothing Here", "Make Me as You Are" and "The Crimson Kiss", were quite enjoyable -- decent lyrics and melodies, not to mention Carolee Carmello has an amazing voice. In fact, the one thing that I did enjoy from the show overall was that all of the actors have spectacular voices, and did the best they could acting with what they had to work with. "Sail Me Away" was quite good as well, though there were times when Hugh Panaro's voice got a little too emphatic and he would sound like he was wailing. Maybe that was his intention, but it was a little hard to listen to.

Hugh Panaro, of course, is the "star" of this show as Lestat. On the whole, he did well with the material, and he has a great voice. He portrays the morality conflict Lestat feels well -- striving to be "good", bothered by the fact that he has to kill to survive. He is incredibly stubborn and it isn't until he feels like he's lost everything that meant something to him that he accepts what he's become. "Sail Me Away" had a grand, sweeping melody (and even orchestration) and is full of self-pity -- but I do have to say that Hugh overdid it in trying to inject emotion to his singing, and some of the vowels he sang came across as too strong.

Drew Sarich also had a spectacular voice that he was able to showcase in "After All This Time", in which he basks in the glory of exacting his revenge on Lestat. There were times when Drew actually took it to the edge of being psychopathic, being very wild and almost sadistic. It was like he could barely contain his glee, especially when he realized that it was Claudia who had attempted to kill Lestat.

Allison Fischer actually pulled off portraying a ten-year-old quite well, despite being 17 herself. Of course, a good deal of her scenes take place 30 years after Lestat "made" her into a vampire, but she retains that child-like desire for instant gratification ("I Want More") while also emotionally maturing enough to mourn the abrupt end to her childhood. She also mourns the loss of her chance to grow up and experience the wonders and joys of falling in love and having a family ("I'll Never Have That Chance"). She has an amazingly powerful voice, essentially singing her temper tantrum in "I Want More", but she is also capable of singing very delicately and sorrowfully in "I'll Never Have That Chance".

I suppose at least this closing version was much improved from earlier versions I heard about, but it still needed a lot of work before it would even be considered successful on Broadway. (And in light of the show having closed on Broadway in May, it never made it, despite some very drastic changes to both the story and lyrics. Unfortunately, while some of them helped the story make a little more coherent sense, most of those changes were not really for the better.)