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A MUSICAL FILM

(AND STAGE PLAY) BASED ON BRAM STOKER'S DRACULA

 

A ten-year project (so far) has led Playwright, Composer and Artistic Director, Don McEwen, on a Dracula adventure.

 

Ten years from concept to the development and first production of the Musical Stage Play, …through to the Filming of the Musical Movie and still the work load stretches before him and his dedicated team.

 

 

 

Playwright, Composer and Artistic Director – Don McEwen.

 

Jonathan Harker (Timothy Blundell) as an uncomfortable guest of Dracula (Byron Littlewood).

Working closely with his wife, Susan (an Artist, Set Designer, Costume Designer, Seamstress and accomplished Actor), they have worked with dogged determination to achieve their dream.

 

The classic tale of Dracula has been recreated in many different formats over the years with various interpretations of the character of Dracula. Hollywood, to their peril, did their best to turn the blood-sucking, murderous demon into a sex symbol. Don McEwen's version does not make the same mistake. Dracula is a tale of horror – a fallen being that lives on blood sucked from its victims.

 

The photographs in this article are from the Stage Play presented at the Civic Playhouse (Newcastle, NSW, Australia).

 

Photographs are reproduced with the kind permission of Peter Emery.

(All rights reserved.)

 

 

Russell Spencer as the insane Renfield.

 

When his Dracula novel was first published in June 1897, Bram Stoker could surely have not envisaged the lasting success of his book or the volume of imaginative work that would flow from his vivid account of an encounter with a Vampire.

 

This was not the first book to be written about a Vampire. However, regardless of the level of success (or otherwise) of those earlier works and the success (or otherwise) of the vampire stories that have appeared in print and on the silver screen since Bram Stoker’s book, there can be no doubt that Dracula remains the father of a genre. For some, still ‘the original and the best’.

 

I am in awe of the appeal that this book has had for a huge audience for well over a century. I love the book but I struggle to understand the psyche that has kept it such a classic – even after reading the twenty four pages of the ‘Introduction’ at the beginning of my 1993 edition of the book.

 

The ‘Introduction’ by Maurice Hindle uses phrases charged with the emotion that resonates so well with the intense emotion of the story:

 

 

 

Bethany Emery as Mina Murray.

 

 

 

 

Under hypnosis, Mina (Bethany Emery) discovers the Dracula within. (Also pictured are Scott Rankin as Van Helsing and Kieran Bragg as Arthur Holmwood.)

·         “sexually charged vampire theme”,

 

·          “anxiety-ridden fabric of Dracula”,

 

·         “the threatening nature of monstrosity itself”

 

Dracula, the story, is intense. It is a story of horror. In a civilized, nineteenth century England, two young women are targeted and attacked by a supernatural being that preys on young women in its thirsts for blood and the creation of more of its own kind.

 

The men who love these women find themselves unable to comprehend the force that they are dealing with, let alone find a way to defend their loved ones. Not until Professor Abraham Van Helsing arrives, are they able to hear an explanation (unbelievable as it is) of what has caused the girls’ illness - all too late to save Lucy Westenra.

 

 

 

 

 

Professor Abraham Van Helsing (Scott Rankin) and Dr John Seward (Wayne Jarman) during tense times.

 

 

 

 

Lucy Westenra (Susan McEwen) during the sleepwalking scene in the graveyard at Whitby.

The sexual stress within the book cannot be ignored. Maurice Hindle uses the term ‘soft-pornographic content’ when describing a section of the book. (Remember that we are talking about a book produced in the late Victorian era.)

 

This is all too enticing for lovers of theatre. Hence the various incarnations, over the last century, of the book as plays and films.

 

Put the book into the hands of someone who has devoted his life to theatre, as an Actor and Artistic Director of both straight plays and musicals, and you will see excitement. When Susan McEwen suggested that Don write the musical of Dracula, it didn’t take too much persuasion. Don McEwen could write a script, he could write music and he knew about the development of drama. There was no doubt that it could be done – given time.

 

 

 

Jonathan Harker (Timothy Blundell) gripped with fear in Dracula’s Castle.

 

 

 

Dracula as we expect to see Dracula (with Mina).

 

Don wrote his script for a large stage. However, when the time came to test the musical on stage, the budget was, quite sensibly, set small and a small venue was chosen. If the play showed merit in its first season, there was much to do (and much money to be spent) to move it onto the large stages of the world.

 

A cast was chosen, based on Don’s and Susan’s experience and association over decades of theatre. The music was recorded. The play was tailored to suit the smaller stage area.

 

 

Struggling to control Renfield (Russell Spencer) in the Asylum.

 

 

 

 

Dracula induces a nightmare.

Lucy Westenra (Susan McEwen), Jonathan Harker (Timothy Blundell) and Mina Murray (Bethany Emery).

Rehearsals took place in a garage with the stage area marked on the floor with tape – while the vehicle spent months parked on the road.

 

The neighbors, surely, must have wondered what all the yelling and screaming was about – but the much awaited knock on the door, by the police, didn’t arrive.

 

The play met with a mixed response from the audiences. Don McEwen, however, saw great potential in what was happening on stage and finished the season with a resolve to continue with the project.

 

Interestingly, high praise came from theatre buffs who had traveled from Europe. Nudity on Australian stages is not common and large sections of the Australian audience had found the scenes with nudity to be quite challenging. Not so, with our overseas guests who lavished praise on the Director and Cast.

 

 

 

Lucy being hypnotized by Van Helsing.

 

 

Quincey Morris (Liam Bradbury), Mina Murray (Bethany Emery),

Lucy Westenra (Susan McEwen), Professor Van Helsing (Scott Rankin), Arthur Holmwood (Kieran Bragg), Dr John Seward (Wayne Jarman).

In line with the resolve to continue, Don & Susan McEwen have since filmed the movie of the Dracula Musical. There are some stories to be told about that process …another time.

 

We’ll tell the story of the movie production during a later Edition of the Reflective Bubble Magazine. Suffice to say that the movie is currently in the editing phase.

 

 

 

Jonathan with Dracula’s Sirens (From lower left in a clockwise direction: Rebecca Sheldon, Brigette Smith & Sue Littlewood.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

He's coming – Van Helsing and Mina in Dracula's Castle.

 

 

 

"Velcome to my house'" – Jonathan Harker (Timothy Blundell) meets Count Dracula (Byron Littlewood).

 

 

 

Timothy Blundell as Jonathan Harker.

 

 

 

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