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"Dracula, a Musical" cast members gather on the McKeesport Little Theater stage during a rehearsal break. The show, which made its debut on the same stage in 1993, opens today. (Bonnijean Cooney Adams photo for Tube City Almanac)
If you go...
“Dracula, A Musical”
Where: McKeesport Little Theater, 1614 Coursin St.
When: July 16, 17, 18, 23, 24, 25, with Friday and Saturday shows at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m.
Tickets: $20 for adults and $12 for students with a valid ID or under 18. To make reservations, call the theater at (412) 673-1100 and leave your name, phone number, the date of the performance you wish to see, and how many tickets you need. There are no online reservations for this show. No one will call you back about your reservation unless there is a question or concern. After 5 p.m. for same-day viewing, you will need to purchase tickets at the box office.
More information: www.mckeesportlittletheater.com
When the cast of “Dracula, a Musical” takes the stage at McKeesport Little Theater, it will mark only the third run for the show — all at MLT.
Roughly based on the 19th-century novel by Bram Stoker, it premiered on July 9, 1993, a collaborative effort among Carnegie native songwriter/lyricist Paul Michael Brown, his mother Rita Brown, who was the original executive producer, and family friend Al Snyder, who owns a Pittsburgh-based recording and production studio.
The well-received show was performed a second time in the late 1990s, and was to have been the MLT season finale in May 2020.
“We already had the cast set when we had to cancel due to Covid,” producer Lori Stramaski said. “We have a lot of the original cast returning, but we did have a few roles that we needed to find replacements for. Jonathan, Inspector Farnsworth, Emily, and the entire ensemble had to be filled.
“We only had two rehearsals in 2020 before we had to shut down,” she explained. “We started rehearsals (for the current production) in early May when a lot of restrictions were lifted.”
This account of the notorious Count Dracula paints a different picture of the character. Stramaski describes it as “more of a love story.”
As director Dorothy Fallows takes notes, key cast members, from left, Evan Pietrzak as Jonathan, Jessie Freuden as Lucy, Ed Gergerich as Van Helsing, Ron Clawson as Count Dracula, and Anna Gergerich as Mina, share a scene from "Dracula, a Musical." (Bonnijean Cooney Adams photo for Tube City Almanac)
Lead characters definitely agree, and explain there is almost a love triangle between the count, a woman named Mina, who reminds him of the long-ago love of his life, and Mina’s fiancé, Jonathan.
MLT veteran Ron Clawson, who plays the count, said his Dracula, although 200 years old, is “very charismatic and appears to be in his late 20s or 30s.”
Evan Pietrzak, who plays the somewhat stuffy Jonathan Harker, said the musical is presented from Dracula’s point of view. He replaces the actor originally cast when the show was set for 2020.
Pietrzak said he got a call about taking over the role one night from Phil Boatright, who wears two hats as the stage manager and McPherson.
“I was not that familiar with the show then,” Pietrzak said. “It’s very interesting, and so very much different than the usual Dracula.”
Anna Gergerich plays Mina Van Helsing, engaged to Jonathan but inexplicably drawn to the mysterious count.
“His character is a lot more romantic and not as much a vampire,” she said.
Jessie Freuden is Jonathan’s spunky sister Lucy. The Harkers have been the adopted wards of Van Helsing since childhood and live on his estate, where the basement of the house is an asylum for his patients.
“Lucy is a typical 16-year-old,” Freuden said. “Although she lives in this great house, she wants to leave and meet new people, see new places. She feels trapped and is kind of rebellious.”
So while Count Dracula is obsessed with Mina, he can’t possibly ignore all the attention coming his way from Lucy, which leads to some rather dire consequences.
Boatright’s daughter, Colleen Boatright, is cast as Sylvia and in the ensemble. As Mina’s best friend, she was supposed to be her bridesmaid but was found murdered.
The murder suspect is Dr. Van Helsing’s patient Renfield, portrayed by Dylan Stramaski.
Paul Brown’s music and lyrics caught and held the attention of theater-goers and critics alike from the show’s debut. They include “Children of the Night,” “Dracula,” “Show Me the Light,” “Nobody Believes a Crazy Man,” and “A Stranger’s Eyes.”
Clawson said “Show Me the Light” is one of his favorite numbers. “It shows a different side of Dracula. It’s the story about his life,” he said.
“He is very charming,” Clawson said. “He is instantly attracted to Mina because of her uncanny resemblance to a woman named Alexandra, who was the love of his life.”
"Dracula, a Musical" collaborators Al Snyder and Paul Michael Brown on a trip to Switzerland. (Submitted photo courtesy Al Snyder.)
A CD of the show was produced in Snyder’s Albey Road Studio in 1994, featuring some local and other Broadway singers.
Paul Brown has since passed away, and Snyder owns all the rights to “Dracula, a Musical.” He has attended various rehearsals at McKeesport Little Theater in advance of the latest show, and said hearing the music again has brought back a lot of memories, including how he met the Brown family in the first place.
“We lived in the same neighborhood when Paul was young, and he was my paperboy,” Snyder said. They also were the only two piano-player musicians there at the time.
Professionally, Snyder established his studio, where he continues to write songs and lyrics of his own while helping further the careers of many talented or aspiring musicians.
Years later, Snyder said Brown walked into his studio seeking advice and guidance on a project with songs and lyrics he said were intended to become a musical.
“Paul would come in with a new song every other week and we’d lay down the tracks of what was to become “Dracula, a Musical,’ “ Snyder said. “He was the main (song) writer, and 95 percent of the lyrics were his, too.”
Snyder said they worked together for approximately two years on the project.
“It was a real easy collaboration with a lot of people,” Snyder said. “For Paul, this definitely was his baby.”
Once the music was set, another collaborative effort went into the script, Snyder said, involving rewrites and tweaking.
“After the script was finished, it was presented at McKeesport Little Theater,” Snyder said. “Rave reviews from all the papers about Paul’s score kept the theater completely filled throughout the run.”
The music was what enticed at least two current cast members to audition.
Anna Gergerich is joined by her real-life father Ed Gergerich as psychiatrist Dr. Van Helsing, who is her stage dad, too.
Ed performed in the musical the second time it was staged at McKeesport Little Theater. Sporting his cast shirt at a recent rehearsal, he said he played Farnsworth then and met Paul Brown.
He said Anna was just a young girl approximately 8 years old, but they agree she was fascinated by the show and music even then.
Clawson said he discovered the music CD when he was with MLT’s Juniors program and grew to love the music and show.
“I always wanted to play Jonathan,”’ Clawson said. “People should come to see this locally written music, then get a glimpse into Dracula’s mind and struggle with life and love.”
Producer Stramaski said using recorded music was the hardest part of the show.
“We are used to having the music director play the piano for our shows,” she said. “ ‘Dracula’ has a recording of the music, so it’s a bit different. This ‘Dracula’ was originally made to be performed that way, and we are sticking to Paul Brown’s original vision of the show.”
“Dracula, a Musical” Cast and Crew
Ron Clawson as Dracula, Anna Gergerich as Mina, Jessie Freuden as Lucy, Evan Pietrzak as Jonathan, Dylan Stramaski as Renfield, Ed Gergerich as Van Helsing, Phil Boatright as McPherson, Tom Arillotta as Inspector Farnsworth, Terri Davis as Emily, and Colleen Boatright as Sylvia/ ensemble.
Dakota Vargo, Savannah Vargo, Margaret Valentine, Ellie Valentine, Dave Fleming, and Colette Funches.
Directed by Dorothy Fallows, with Jan Gerber as executive producer, and Lori Stramaski, producer; Phil Boatright, stage manager; Dave Fleming, set builder, and Bethany Kirk, lights.
Bonnijean Cooney Adams is a contributing writer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Originally published July 16, 2021.