Every piece of marketing, from the posters to the glossy post card mailings to the grayscale programs, displays a question mark after the title of Vanguard Theatre Ensemble's seasonally appropriate Dracula: The Musical? Though it's likely a stipulation of their contract with publisher Samuel French (and Samuel French's agreement with the playwright and composer, Rick Abbot), the question mark also succinctly sums up the audience's puzzled response to this almost aimless performance directed by ensemble member Ian Downs.
The play takes place in a mid-1800s madhouse just outside the city of London, where the Seward family resides alongside various madmen under the care of their father/husband, psychologist Dr. Sam Seward. The play opens with Dr. Seward's daughter, the ever-swooning, ever-innocent Mina (played by Michelle Anderson), lamenting in story and in strained song over her long-lost fiancé Jonathan Harker, who has gone missing in the treacherous Hungarian woods. When the title character, who curiously moved in across the way from the Sewards about the time Nelly's fiancé went missing, is invited to dine with his neighbors, all hell breaks loose—in a nutty, who-gives-a-damn sort of way.
The evening's significant high point is Tom Patrick's Dr. Strangelove-inspired performance of Van Helsing—the doctor whose raison d'être is Dracula's downfall. Not only is Patrick's character the savior of the Seward family from the threat of the not-so-imposing Dracula, but his disciplined and downright hilarious performance saves this musical madness from certain death.
That the performance is, to a large extent, musically and dramatically flat shouldn't be a surprise, though. "Come join us for a safe holiday treat!" is its catch phrase—the honest truth, declared throughout the ensemble's mailings and postings. Vanguard must know its tepidly wacky Dracula scarcely says "Boo."
DRACULA: THE MUSICAL? AT VANGUARD THEATRE ENSEMBLE, 120-A W. WILSHIRE, FULLERTON, (714) 526-8007. FRI.-SAT., 8 P.M.; SUN., 2 P.M. THROUGH NOV. 13. $18-$25.