It was the stuff of legends. A Broadway disaster that few could image was possible. How could someone, let alone a group of people, invest in such an ill-conceived concept? We wondered if perhaps we were all on candid camera as we watched the opening of Dance Of The Vampires on Broadway, on December 9, 2002. New York was still reeling from 911. And though the diversion of this train wreck was good fun for NY theater folk, critics had no time for the campy German import, plus the company members (who included Rene Auberjonois, Mandy Gonzalez, Liz McCartney, and Max von Essen) knew their days would be numbered in Transylvania.
Dance of the Vampires (or Tanz der Vampire as the original German version is named) was a German musical remake of a 1967 Roman Polanski film of the same name (called The Fearless Vampire Killers in the US). Polanski also directed the original German production of this musical. Music was composed by Jim Steinman (Total Eclipse Of The Heart…or “moon” in the musical’s case), orchestrated by Steve Margoshes, and original German book and lyrics were written by Michale Kunze. rom the premiere of Tanz der Vampire, English producers were seeking to bring the show to English-speaking countries. After briefly considering a West End run, under the influence of Steinman and his manager, it was decided to bring the musical (now titled Dance of the Vampires) to New York for the 1998 season, with Steinman translating and reshaping the German book and lyrics, Polanski returning as director, and original Viennese producer/Polanski manager Andrew Braunsberg serving as executive producer. Efforts to return Polanski to the United States proved fruitless because of his unwillingness to face punishment his 1960’s statutory rape charge, leading first to postponing the show’s opening to Halloween 2000, and then to the decision to seek a different director if Polanski could not return.
In October 2000, a tentative fall 2001 opening was announced, along with the rather surprising declaration that Steinman himself would serve as the show’s director, a somewhat off-putting notion due to the fact that Steinman had never directed any shows, much less one of this size and scale, in his career. Attempting to reassure doubters, Steinman asserted in interviews that “Half the show [in Vienna] I had to talk Polanski into doing, and did it behind his back a lot. He’s a great guy but he had a totally different vision”.As early 2001 approached, however, and a reading for potential producers and investors was announced in the news section of Steinman’s fan website, things began taking on a more concrete shape, comic playwright David Ives was helping to reconfigure the book with a view toward a more comic angle instead of a straightforward adaptation of the successful Austrian version, which was deemed to be written in a style no longer accepted by Broadway critics and audiences. As Steinman later put it, looking back with a more jaundiced eye, “We were told to put five jokes on every page”.
The new version, described by Steinman to the press as “a big, Wagnerian musical with lots of humor […] a lot of it is pure Mel Brooks and a lot of it Anne Rice” (with a lot more of the latter) to the by-invitation-only audience as a musical for “people who think musicals suck,” was met with a mixed reception. Potential investors and producers seemed to love the score, but felt the new book with its mix of bawdy humor and eroticism needed fine-tuning. Unfortunately, Steinman’s creative disagreements with his producing team (at one point telling the press “I can’t tell you how many things are the opposite of what I want, but I am part of a team”), and their seeming inability to raise the investment money in time for a now-rather-unrealistic fall opening, led to tense situations backstage.
At this point, the show needed some kind of drawing card to attract investors scared off by the previous snafus on the producing front. It was decided that a star lead in the role of Count von Krolock would be just the trick; feelers were put out to names as diverse as David Bowie, John Travolta, Richard Gere and Placido Domingo. Ultimately, the team came to an agreement with Michael Crawford, best known on Broadway at the time as the lead in The Phantom Of The Opera in the 1980s. Steinman was reportedly elated, calling him “a towering talent” and “probably the biggest box-office star in the theater.”However, Crawford wanted some assurances before he would take on a planned three years in the role. He demanded complete creative control of his character,he wanted a “retirement package” of up to £20m a year ($180,000 a week in American money), and he also preferred to have “first refusal” on (i.e., the option to reprise) the role in London and Los Angeles.Additionally, though not a major point in negotiations, Crawford also sought assurance that he would receive the role of von Krolock in any resulting film version, having recently lost the film role of the Phantom to initial star Antonio Banderas (later replaced by Gerard Butler).Of the four points of negotiation, Crawford won two, creative control and first refusal, eschewing the original salary (after initial press reports caused an outcry over his massive payday) for a much slimmer $30,000 a week. While Steinman, still ebullient over Crawford’s casting, defended the original figure by saying Crawford “would be worth every cent we can pay him”, a more sensible Crawford claimed that initial reports of a $180,000 salary were “ridiculous” and “a piece of fantasy journalism from my home country,” adding that “anyone who knows how many people you can fit in a theater knows that you don’t do Broadway to make money”.The possibility of the film role, meanwhile, was never mentioned again.
By the time an official deal with Crawford was announced,by now downgraded to a yearlong contract in the role rather than three, he had been pulling his weight in the creative control department. It seems that Crawford’s major contributions at this time were in the vein of a “Continental accent” (a bizarre mix of Italian and Cockney tones that Crawford claimed made singing the score easier) and input on costume designs aimed at hiding alleged weight problems (jowls in particular).After rehearsals were to begin in January, the opening was set for April 2002 following six weeks of previews starting in March. Further casting sessions for secondary leads and ensemble were set for September 2001. Due to the terrorist attacks of 911, however, the game-plan changed in a major league fashion. With most of the show’s major creative team (including co-director Caird) based in London, a myriad of logistic delays were caused by mass cancellation of flights, among other variables. Realizing there was no way to open before the Tony cut-off as planned, and (it later emerged) unable to raise his share of the investment on time, and they publicly announced the postponement of the show.
After a prolonged period of development (61 previews in total, with two of the originally set opening dates missed), the English version of Dance of the Vampires opened on Broadway on December 9, 2002. Music and lyrics for the English version were officially credited to Jim Steinman, and the English book was officially credited to Jim Steinman, Michael Kunze and David Ives. This version of the show was critically lambasted; the work of lead performer Michael Crawford was reviewed particularly harshly.When the reviews came out, Jim Steinman made a show of his disapproval of the project by not attending opening night and publicly distancing himself from the show that had resulted from this “too many cooks” approach: “The show that I wrote is not at the Minskoff. The show that is dear to me is still running in Vienna . The one at the Minskoff was just a job.” In later days, on his blog, he would still refuse responsibility for what had occurred, writing that “DOTV as we know was UTTER SHIT!” in one post, and describing the production as a “shit pile” in another. He stated in other blog entries that his music was “wasted” on the show, and was careful to make a clear distinction between the Broadway version (referred to as DOTV) and the successful European version (referred to as Tanz).
On January 25, 2003, after 56 performances, Dance of the Vampires closed. According to The New York Times, it was “one of the costliest failures in Broadway history”, losing roughly $12 million, easily “eclipsing” the infamous musical Carrie”.
Click below to see a complete video outline of Dance of the Vampires on Broadway (2002):
Part One of Dance of the Vampires.
Part Two of Dance of the Vampires.
Part Three of Dance of the Vampires.
Part Four of Dance of the Vampires.
Part Five of Dance of the Vampires.
Part Six of Dance of the Vampires.
Part Seven of Dance of the Vampires.
Part Eight of Dance of the Vampires.
Part Nine of Dance of the Vampires.
Part Ten of Dance of the Vampires.
Part Eleven of Dance of the Vampires.
Part Twelve of Dance of the Vampires.
Part Thirteen of Dance of the Vampires.