Lestat: Broadway’s next big hit?

The introduction of Lestat, a musical rooted in vampire tradition to the Broadway scene, has had audiences scratching their heads. After all, the last two musicals featuring children of the night (Dracula in 2003, and Dance of the Vampires in 2004) bled audiences dry. The show, still in previews on Broadway, have earned mixed reviews and is being reshaped every performance.

Lestat is the brainchild of Elton John and Bernie Taupin, based on two novels from Anne Rice’s The Vampire Chronicles. The two collaborated on several songs in the past, and John is still basking in the glow of the “Great White Way” after composing several Disney hits.

Touted by Taupin as a “non-vampire vampire musical,” Lestat follows the life of Lestat de Lioncourt, a young man who leaves his strict family only to be held prisoner in his new life. That second life happens to be one of the immortal vampires. Torn between the desire to live and the need to kill, Lestat spends lifetimes searching for meaning.

The creative team for this show has steered away from the traditional gothic interpretation of the vampire and created a sympathetic character much in sync with Anne Rice’s original concept.

No actor could better identify with a misunderstood “monster” than Hugh Panaro of The Phantom of the Opera, who is cast as the title character. Panaro makes the transition from confused newcomer to jaded vamp ire flawlessly and with some catchy ballads in between. His vocal range can switch from angelic tenor to a low baritone that practically massages the ears. From the prologue to the epilogue, Panaro falls deeper and deeper into character.

Unlike a typical play, there is no grand conclusion, only the story of a man who continues to search for himself.

In keeping with the non-vampire view, there is no blood onstage after the opening scene where Lestat returns from slaying a pack of wolves. Its presence speaks volumes: “Here is the blood, now focus on the storyline.”

All transformations on stage occur through projected images on giant moving flats, signifying bloodletting and past lives. Graceful movement suggests feeding, and the only typical vampire scene is a play within a play by the vampire actors in Paris.

Lestat officially opens on April 25 at the Palace Theatre on Broadway.