With Halloween just around the corner, theatre-goers will be in for a “treat” when “Dracula, the Musical” premiers tonight at Stage West Playhouse in Spring Hill. It’s different from most of their other plays in several ways. First, they will have a live orchestra instead of recorded music. Secondly, the cast features several actors who are not Stage West regulars. In addition, the music is very different from your usual Broadway musicals, such as “Hello, Dolly” or “Sound of Music” in that the composer, Frank Wildhart, is described as having a “genre-busting style” and often incorporates jazz, pop and opera into his songs.
Brady Lay, who directs “Dracula, the Musical,” has had a long career in theatre, both acting and directing. As he majored in music education in college and is also a high school music teacher, he prefers directing musicals. Among his favorites are this current production and “Beauty and the Beast” and “Fiddler on the Roof.”
Besides having just six weeks to practice due to the length of time it took to cast the show, there have been other challenges producing “Dracula, the Musical.”
“One challenge was getting a different twist on a story that everybody knows,” Lay explains.
Adapting the stage directions to the limitations of the stage at this theatre was another challenge. “For example, in the stage directions, it says, ‘Dracula turns into a bat and hangs from the ceiling.’ Obviously, we couldn’t do that because we don’t have fly equipment. We’ve had to look at the play in different ways to get the same feel.”
Tony Peter Agati plays the lead and gives Dracula a nuance of characterization that depicts him as not “pure evil” as we’ve come to know him from the movies. Tony has perfected the Transylvanian accent, giving the character the right touch of malevolence without lapsing into parody.
Tony started acting in high school in the late 1970s but gave it up to pursue a career and raise a family. When he moved to Florida in 2016, he got back into theatre. His favorite role has been Max Bialystock in “The Producers.”
As someone who’s in love with theater, Agati states, “I find every role I play, there’s something I like about it.”
“I find acting rewarding because I sit at a desk all day at a computer, and I enjoy interacting with and entertaining people. It keeps me active and keeps my brain in shape,” he continues.
The role of Dracula is particularly rewarding because it allows Tony to stretch his acting abilities.
“It’s an opportunity to play an evil character because I usually get cast as the fun-loving comedic character. I got to do a part with some dramatic depth.”
Zachary Smith plays the part of Jonathan Harker, who, not knowing that Dracula is a vampire, arranges for him to travel to and settle in England.
“Jonathan is a lot like me. He’s all over the place emotionally. He lets his feelings be known and says what’s on his mind and I’m a lot like that,” Zachary remarks.
Smith is a consummate actor, having been in one show a year for the past few years. He’d like to do even more. One of his favorite plays was “Puff,” a spoof of Harry Potter, in which he played fourteen different parts.
“I love doing high-energy parts,” he explains.
The fact that Zachary is on the autism spectrum can sometimes present some challenges when acting.
“For example, if I’m comfortable practicing something in a certain way and a change is made, that starts to ‘freak me out.’ It’s something I have to acclimate to.”
Zachary has enjoyed playing the fiery romantic lead and finding that it suits him and that he’s capable of this type of role. He’d like to pursue other roles like this. He would like to one day play Raul in “Phantom of the Opera” and Anthony in “Sweeney Todd.”
Another actor who has had to overcome challenges in his life is Robert Torres. He plays Dracula’s nemesis, the vampire hunter Dr. Van Helsing.
In August of last year, Torres was diagnosed with cancer and, as a result, lost part of his left leg. That hasn’t stopped him from pursuing his passion, however.
After he was declared cancer-free and prior to being fitted for a prosthetic leg, he got a part in a play called “Twelve Incompetent Jurors.” He was in a wheel chair at the time which lent itself to his character, a very angry individual.
When he got his prosthesis, he landed the part of Van Helsing. He bought an ornate cane with a carved wolf’s head on the handle, which perfectly suited the part of the vampire slayer.
Agati gravitates toward characters who are complicated, innately good, or achieve a positive transformation. For example, two of his favorite roles were Bob Cratchit and Ebenezer Scrooge in two different versions of “A Christmas Carol.”
“I liked Bob Cratchit because he’s such a warm dedicated family man who, like myself, tries to see the good in people. Scrooge was a favorite because he was someone so embittered by life, but there’s a part of him that’s not beyond redemption,” Torres remarks.
Robert also sees a reflection of himself in Dr. Van Helsing. “What I liked about Van Helsing is that he’s somebody who, because of his experience dealing with vampires, is able to help people even if they think he’s a bit odd. He’s very focused and determined.”
Torres would like to have the opportunity to play the title role in Shakespeare’s “Macbeth,” a part that he had auditioned for and gotten, but had to relinquish when he was diagnosed with cancer.
With his determination in making a comeback from cancer, there’s no doubt that if the role comes along, he’ll get it.
The two female leads are Jessica Haberland and Ashley Provo, respectively. Jessica plays Mina, Jonathan’s fiancée, and Ashley portrays Lucy, a woman who has to decide among three suitors and ends up married to Arthur, portrayed by Keith Surplus. Mina is an innocent young woman who brings purity to everyone and plays a part in Dracula’s redemption.
For Jessica meeting and working with people in the theatre and bringing joy and entertainment to her audiences are two of the greatest rewards of acting.
However, the experience has had its challenges for her. “I used to be the most shy person you’d ever meet. I was home-schooled and kept to myself a lot. It was challenging overcoming my shyness, coming out of my shell and talking to people,” Jessica remarks. “What helped me were the people who were onstage with me.”
Jessica doesn’t plan on staying in community theatre forever. She would like to find a talent agency and eventually act on Broadway.
Ashley Provo’s first experience in theatre was at nine when she acted in “The Music Man.” Since then, she has played in a number of musicals, among them ”Mama Mia” and “The Sound of Music.” Among her favorite roles was that of Gabrielle, one of the step-sisters in this past season’s “Cinderella.”
One of Ashley’s most rewarding facets of theater is the imagination involved. “I like the way that it’s a creative outlet. You get to help build sets and come up with your backstory for your character,” Ashley explains.
What she likes best about the role of Lucy is that her character gets drawn into the dark seduction of Dracula. She is torn between the freedom and excitement that Dracula offers her and the respectability of marriage represented by Arthur. Lucy serves as a bridge between Dracula and Mina.
Among the roles on Ashley’s bucket list is that of Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West, in the musical “Wicked.”
“Dracula, the Musical,” with its themes of the struggle between good and evil, both among the various characters and within Dracula himself; the conflict found between propriety and rebelliousness; the modern age versus antiquity; and the power of Christianity against satanic forces, represented by the crucifix, is as relevant today as it was in the nineteenth century.
There will be six performances of the play on October 20th, 21st, and 27th at 7:30 p.m. and matinees on October 22nd, 28th and 29th at 2:00 p.m. To purchase tickets for the show, go online to www.stagewestflorida.com or call the box office Tuesday–Saturday, 10 a.m.–2 p.m. at 352-683-5113. The theater is located at 8390 Forest Oaks Blvd. in Spring Hill.