The many incarnations of “Dracula”
From Sept. 26 through Oct. 1, Count Dracula will stalk McGinnis Theatre – primarily after dark, of course – as ECU’s School of Theatre and Dance presents a production of “Dracula” adapted for the stage from Bram Stoker’s famous 1897 novel.
Count Dracula is most famous vampire in history, and the story of a undead Transylvanian nobleman who travels to London to seek out, seduce, and suck the blood from beautiful young women, while being able to turn himself into a bat, a rat or a wolf and proclaim the glories of “the children of the night,” is known by almost everyone – even those who have never read the novel. This is because Dracula has been kept undead through his countless re-appearances in film and on stage. It’s hard to keep a good vampire down.
Dracula has “lived” in the theater for his entire unlife. Upon the publication of his novel, Stoker staged a reading of the story to secure the theatrical copyright to his tale. In 1924, the author’s widow commissioned Hamilton Deane to write a dramatic adaption of the novel that toured England before becoming a hit in London.
In 1927, Dracula came to Broadway, starring Bela Lugosi, a then little-known actor. The play was a success, toured the United States and has been touring ever since. The most famous adaptation was the 1977 Broadway revival with set and costume designs by Edward Gorey and starring Frank Langella as a seriously sexual vampire.
Adaptation is the sincerest form of cinema, and as he was appearing on stage he began to be seen in darkened movie houses. Some of the most interesting horror films ever made are adaptations of “Dracula.” F.W. Murnau’s 1922 “Nosferatu” starring Max Schreck is one of the finest silent films ever made.
Tod Browning’s 1931 “Dracula” with Lugosi and Edward Van Sloan created the image of the caped count who has become such a cultural icon that he was even transformed into the “Sesame Street” Count von Count.
In the 1950s British adaptations of “Dracula,” Christopher Lee frightened a generation of filmgoers with his threateningly forceful portrayal of the count. Frank Langella reprised his Broadway role for BBC television in 1979 as a suave seducer confronted by Sir Laurence Olivier as vampire hunter Professor Van Helsing.
The most elaborate adaptation has been Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 operatic “Bram Stoker’s Dracula,” starring Gary Oldman, Winona Ryder, and Anthony Hopkins. The less said about “Billy the Kid vs. Dracula” and “Dracula’s Dog,” the better.
Wherever he has appeared Dracula has entertained, seduced, and frightened audiences. And now he is amongst us. Beware and buy garlic.
- Jim Holte, professor of English and Film Studies at ECU