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California Paper Looks at EJ/Bernie Musical

Tuesday 10 January 2006 @ 17:55 - GMT

Like the San Francisco Chronicle, the Mercury News was not impressed with Lestat.

The writer believes Elton and Bernie Taupin's songs don't satisfactorily explain what is going on (except for I Want More), while the star, Hugh Panero, has received kudos--for his looks

Here is the full article:

''Lestat'' swooped down on San Francisco over the weekend on its way to Broadway, but, alas, the vampire musical showed few signs of life.

Necks were ravished, bodies were flung from rooftops and demons burst into flames, but it was all a bit cold-blooded. The fangy antihero made famous in Anne Rice's ``Vampire Chronicles'' has been reborn in a tedious tuner cursed with skin-deep characters and a listless score. Suffice to say, the corpses aren't the only ones drained of vitality. For a vampire musical, ``Lestat'' lacks teeth.

Make no mistake, Hugh Panaro is quite the undead hottie in the title role. Shaking his mane like a lion, the actor strikes one to-die-for pose after another as the flamboyant vampire. If pouts could kill, watch out. But he never finds the pulse of this role. His Lestat is neither fierce enough to scare us nor valiant enough to move us.

As the plot plods along for nearly three hours, we never know just what it is that Lestat hungers for. Clearly he's searching for something besides dinner, but it's not clear if he's after redemption or knowledge or love. It's all rather convoluted in Linda Woolverton's adaptation of the story, and the score by Elton John (music) and Bernie Taupin (lyrics) rarely illuminates matters.

Perhaps the script is too reverential to the novels, trying to cram too much into one narrative, but the action leaps through time and place without letting any of the characters sink in. The worst sin of all may be that the show takes itself so gravely seriously; a little camp would have given it some tongue-in-cheek juice.

From start to finish, ``Lestat'' works best as pure visual stimulus, from Panaro's chiseled cheekbones and Susan Hilferty's swank costumes to Dave McKean's hallucinogenic multimedia scenery. The eye drifts through a fantasyland that morphs from a winter forest to the catacombs of Paris to the docks of New Orleans.

But the filmic power of the show dwarfs its emotional resonance. The people are secondary to the stage pictures, particularly during the ``swoons'': As a vampire plunges his teeth into a victim, our eyes are drawn away from the act at hand, to images projected above.

As a result, the deaths feel impersonal, even MTV-ish. Feeding forms the backbone of the vampire lifestyle, and the show misses the high-stakes drama that these life-and-death moments might have captured.

It all adds up to a gaping chasm between us and Lestat. And since we barely care about him, his doomed relationships with such men as Nicolas (Roderick Hill) and Louis (Jim Stanek) make little mark. It doesn't help that we never understand the true nature of these connections. In fact, the sexuality in this show is so ambiguous that it's neutral. There is equally little passion in Lestat's scenes with his mother, Gabrielle (Carolee Carmello), and his nemesis, Armand (the weak Drew Sarich).

It's almost as though director Robert Jess Roth (``Beauty and the Beast'') wanted to play it safe with these vampires, lest he turn anyone off with anything even remotely disturbing or perverse. But surely that's the reason we're so fascinated with the myth in the first place, because we crave a taste of the dark side.

The score is likewise bland, a collection of same-sounding, easy-listening anthems that should please Sir Elton fans (they'll especially like ``Sail Me Away'') but that do little to move the story forward or give us any insight to the characters. ``Welcome to the New World'' is so chirpy it's jarring. The choreography in the ``To Kill Your Kind'' number feels vaguely reminiscent of Michael Jackson's ``Thriller'' video with its twitching ghoulies.

Only rarely, as in the child Claudia's songs, does the musical hit a vein. ``I Want More'' mixes shades of comedy and horror with a macabre zest the show mostly lacks, and ``I'll Never Have that Chance'' strikes a genuinely touching chord.

Sung with naked emotion by Allison Fischer, who taps believably into the bratty brutality of a 10-year-old fiend, these songs give us a few tantalizing hints of what the musical might have been, but sadly isn't -- a bloody good time. Unless its creators can find a way to infuse more intensity, ``Lestat'' may be dead on arrival on Broadway in the spring.

`Lestat'

Score by Elton John and Bernie Taupin,

book by Linda Woolverton, based on novels by Anne Rice

Where: Curran Theatre, 445 Geary St., San Francisco

When: 8 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays

Through: Jan. 29

Running time: Two hours, 45 minutes, with one intermission