The audience stepped out of the Santa Barbara sun and into a dark and gloomy Center Stage Theater last weekend, dusting off Fiesta confetti and settling in for the Summer Stock Youth Theater’s production of the horror story Dracula. The show delivered the expected blood-curdling shrieks and air of general creepiness befitting its dark tale, but it was Dracula‘s unanticipated humor that showcased the creativity of director Kyra Lehman and her cast of 30 teenaged actors and made this version of the gothic staple unique.
While much of the comedy was subtle-a humorously delivered line here and there, and some mild antics among the mentally insane characters-some of it was marvelously blatant. At one point, a passionate and dark song performed by the character Lucy Van Helsing (Shanti Tuthill) was briefly interrupted by “(I’ve Had) the Time of My Life” of Dirty Dancing fame. Dracula (Lao Allan-Blitz) and Mina Seward (Sarah Gill) shared a key, intimate moment dancing to the ‘80s hit.
Musical director Ken Urbina took other similar liberties with the show’s music, and Lehman and the cast seamlessly worked the funny bits into the otherwise gloomy show. And while the humor showcased the teens’ personalities and senses of humor, their talents were obvious throughout the production.
Cast members periodically sang, danced, and even performed some interpretive dance and acrobatics. Most importantly, they successfully captured the emotional and mental stresses of each character and maintained an air of fear and gravity throughout, despite the intermittent comedic moments. Dracula himself was properly portrayed as both a dreadfully powerful beast and a lovesick count delirious with grief and driven to revenge. This duality is important: Dracula isn’t simply a horror story, but rather an examination of the human psyche and the powerful forces that turn good into evil.
All cast members gave standout performances in this unique show. Dracula and his underlings were appropriately foreboding, the mentally insane were believably so, and the other main characters had their own quirks and personalities that worked to either create drama or add humor. But in case any audience members had grown frightened by the more fearsome characters, all fear subsided after the dramatic ending when the young cast took its bows to U2’s “Pride (In the Name of Love)” and thanked their directors with a joyful group hug.