By Lynn Venhaus

The children of the night are making some lusty music in the musical “Dracula,” a different take on the gothic horror classic whose folklore has become a pop culture staple.

Lush voices soar in a foreboding dark shadow setting, with New Line Theatre putting their own stamp on a stripped down, impressionistic version of Frank Wildhorn’s much-maligned 2004 Broadway musical that has since been heavily revised and became a hit overseas.

Of the many variations of Bram Stoker’s 1897 horror fantasy novel, this very dramatic musical version combines alluring romance with an unsettling thriller narrative devoid of any humor or camp, which has been easy to slide into with vampires over the years. (Case in point: “What We Do in the Shadows.”)

However, Chris Strawhun amuses as one of the characters, a straight-talking Texan named Quincey Morris while delivering his good ol’ boy dialogue.

This tight-knit group, of both familiar and fresh faces, is committed to getting the tone and tempo right. They strive to convince in their portrayals as either under Dracula’s hypnotic spell, resisting it, or desperate vampire hunters.

Brittany Kohl, Vanessa Simpson. Photo by Jill Ritter Lindberg

Their vocal prowess is its strongest suit because this show’s intention is to have more of an emotional core, not aiming to scare or even conjure suspense, in this supernatural world.

Supporting players circle the bewildering nobleman, Count Dracula, an imposing yet enigmatic figure confidently played by Cole Gutmann.

He has summoned solicitor Jonathan Harker (Ian McCreary) to assist in the purchase of a home in England.

Despite being told not to wander around the castle in the Carpathian Mountains, Harker does just that, encountering the Weird Sisters, a trio of nubile undead, who entice him to do bad things. McCreary presents the character as a stand-up guy, but weak.

Ann Heir Brown, Chelsie Johnston and Sarah Lueken bewitch as the seductive trio, slithering around the minimalist stage. With sinful looks and slinky attire, the characters add a provocative edge. They are choreographed by co-director Tony L. Marr Jr.

They initially set the eerie mood with the opening number, “Prologue,” then join McCreary in “Jonathan’s Arrival.” All three have melodic voices, evident on “Forever Young” and joining Guttmann on “Fresh Blood.”

Well, that situation doesn’t go well for Harker, and he winds up in a hospital. His smart and lovely fiancé Mina Murray (Brittany Kohl) changes her holiday plans with best friend Lucy Westenra (Vanessa Simpson) and leaves Whitby Bay, a seaside town in England.

Kent Coffel, Ian McCreary, Kohl, J.D. Pounds. Photo by Jill Ritter Lindberg

A sense of dread surfaces in Mina and Lucy’s duet, “The Mist,” and their nightmares begin.

The women, confined to the society standard of being an adornment on the arms of successful men, keep ignoring red flags but this mysterious aristocrat has captured their fancy. Kohl and Simpson are believable as women who may want more out of life.

The fetching Lucy, wooed by three men, chooses the dullest guy to marry, Arthur Holmwood, earnestly portrayed by Alex Vito Fuegner. Another suitor is Jack Seward, a doctor specializing in psychoanalysis, who is played with authority by J.D. Pounds.

Their number, “How Do You Choose?” sets up their relationships. Despite Lucy marrying Holmwood, the guys are friends and factor into the group trying to protect everyone from sinister forces.

Seward is the gateway to his patient, the insane assistant Renfield (Rafael DaCosta), who is mind-controlled by the count.

DaCosta and the Weird Sisters collaborate on “The Master’s Song,” indicating their servitude.

DaCosta adds some verve to the proceedings, as does Kent Coffel as Professor Abraham Van Helsing, the obsessed vampire slayer. Sporting a Dutch accent and explaining how to snare a vampire, Coffel grounds the show as the iconic presence.

Rafael DaCosta as Renfield. Photo by Jill Ritter Lindberg

Coffel, an MVP in supporting roles, has more contributions musically — two solo numbers, “Nosferatu” and “Summers Come, Summers Go,” and performs “Undead One” and ‘Deep into the Darkest Night” with the suitors. Van Helsing also duets with Dracula in “It’s Over.”

This production focuses on the seriousness of the times, and the traditional roles in Victorian society. Stoker’s aggressively sexual characters were a novel idea in that era, for polite society followed rigid rules of decorum.

Flirting with forbidden eroticism has always been an appealing aspect of the mythology – and if you’ve seen Francis Ford Coppola’s “Dracula” movie in 1992, the ‘True Blood’ series on HBO, and even the ‘Twilight’ franchise, you don’t have to be Fellini to figure out the temptation metaphors.

Director Scott Miller and co-directory Marr keep it tasteful, implying the blood lust without fangs or special effects, or icky graphic stuff.

Both Mina’s and Lucy’s seductions are simply staged, and the deaths through various implements are downplayed. (Although blocking prevented me from seeing Lucy’s beheading).

This cast must build the desire and the fear into their characterizations because, unfortunately, the book by Don Black and Christopher Hampton is like a Cliff Notes version of the source material. It’s neither fascinating nor passionate, and the actors have to do the heavy lifting on their own.

Coffel, Cole Guttmann. Photo by Jill Ritter Lindberg

It’s important to be aware of the basic Dracula scenario, for this script has little world-building, assuming you’re well-versed in it.

The setting toggles back and forth between a castle in Transylvania, England, a ship, Budapest, and a mental asylum, which can be difficult to follow if you’re not plugged into the most famous vampire figure in history.

Black’s lyrics have more exposition than the book. Gutmann’s soulful voice stirringly delivers Wildhorn’s grandiose ballads, injecting a more tortured, troubled persona rather than a monstrous villain into the numbers.

And he does so admirably, from his first number “Solitary Man” to “At Last” and finale. His anguish and his power are explored in “A Perfect Life/Loving You Keeps Me Alive” with Kohl and McCreary, one of the standout numbers.

Lucy is doomed, and Simpson is impressive as the poor unfortunate soul. She and Gutmann display a palpable chemistry, and that may be chalked up to being partners in real life.

Their number, “Life After Life,” joined by the company, sets up the inevitable trajectory, and their harmonies are solid.

Kohl, Guttmann. Photo by Jill Ritter Lindberg.

When Dracula falls in love with Mina, that allows for some outstanding vocal work by Kohl and Guttmann. Kohl is capable of pathos, as exemplified in “Please Don’t Make Me Love You” and “If I Had Wings.”

I wouldn’t say sensuality is evident, but as accomplished singers, they know how to deliver poignancy.

The designers have expertly crafted a creepy atmosphere, with Matt Stuckel’s lighting design and Ryan Day’s sound design establishing an off-balance feel.

Costume designer Zach Thompson has fashioned appropriate 19th century styles and sultry outfits for the Weird Sisters, with nifty little details to make the looks interesting..

Lippert’s skills have highlighted functionality for the scenic design, making the most with a few signature pieces – a centerpiece crypt doubles as a bed and a table and there is a striking stained glass window.

Music Director Jenna Lee Moore, who helmed “Nine” last year, has a terrific group of six musicians and plays keyboard. Paul Rueschhoff is on cello, John Gerdes on brass/bass, Mary Wiley on reeds, Mallory Golden on violin, Buddy Shumaker on guitar and second keyboard, and Clancy Newell on percussion.

Wildhorn is a hit-and-miss with me. When New Line spiffed up his “Bonnie and Clyde” in 2014, it was one of my favorites that year, showcasing top-notch performances and telling a compelling story.

He is the composer of both pop songs (“Where Do Broken Hearts Go” for Whitney Houston) and musicals, including his most famous, “Jekyll & Hyde” that ran for four years on Broadway. In 1999, he made history by having three shows run simultaneously – besides Jekyll & Hyde, “The Scarlet Pimpernel” and “The Civil War” were also on Broadway.

This musical version of “Dracula” isn’t as fascinating as one expects, given our knowledge of the story, and a reference base from more than 30 films based on the world’s most famous vampire. But this is a sturdy cast whose efforts are noteworthy.

You may not leave humming a tune or consider any of the songs as memorable as Wildhorn’s “This Is the Moment,” from “Jekyll and Hyde,” but you won’t forget the music New Line’s team made.

Photo by Jill Ritter Lindberg.

New Line Theatre” presents “Dracula” May 30 – June 22, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., at the Marcelle Theater, 3310 Samuel Shepard Drive, in the Grand Center Arts District. For more information, visit:

To charge tickets by phone, call MetroTix at 314-534-1111 or visit the Fox Theatre box office or the MetroTix website.

Photo by Jill Ritter Lindberg.

By Alex McPherson

Clunky and formulaic, but kept afloat by gripping performances and a vicious mean streak, director Andre Øvredal’s “The Last Voyage of the Demeter” is a fun albeit insubstantial vampiric bloodbath on the high seas.

Inspired from a single chapter of Bram Stoker’s 1897 Dracula titled “The Captain’s Log” and framed via flashback in epistolary fashion, “Demeter” recounts a grim tale of Count Dracula’s voyage from the Carpathian Mountains to London. He wreaks havoc upon a crew of hapless sailors who have absolutely no idea what they’re in for on an otherwise routine cargo-transporting trip across the Aegean.

Among the crew is Captain Elliot (Liam Cunningham of “Game of Thrones” fame), an aged shipman embarking on one last assignment before leaving his seafaring days behind him; his curious, enthusiastic grandson, Toby (Woody Norman); the severe First Mate, Wojchek (David Dastmalchian, mostly one-note with some shoddy ADR); an earnest, Cambridge-educated physician named Clemens (Corey Hawkins); the ship’s superstitious cook, Joseph (Jon Jon Briones); plus a foursome of sailors (Chris Walley, Stefan Kapicic, Martin Fururland, and Nikolai Nikolaeff) who, not by the actors’ faults, don’t have much time to distinguish themselves. There’s also a strange woman aboard who rolls out of a crate, Anna (Aisling Franciosi), who’s lost plenty of blood but is able to hold her own as a confident badass. 

Oh, Dracula (Javier Botet) is aboard, skulking in the darkness and picking off unfortunate chaps in swift, jump-scare-laden attacks. It’s a battle for survival on the Demeter, as the crew try to vanquish the devil in their midst and make it to London alive before Dracula makes an all-you-can-drink buffet of their innards.

Javier Botet is Dracula

With hints of “Alien” and “The Thing,” “The Last Voyage of the Demeter” has the potential to be a taut, claustrophobic thrill ride with a horror icon uncaged. Unfortunately, Øvredal’s film doesn’t fully capitalize on its premise; rushed editing and trope-heavy frights hold it back, leaving its talented ensemble (especially Hawkins) to do the heavy-lifting, with reminders of a more emotional, immersive experience that could have been.

The ingredients are seemingly all there for a horror knockout: detailed production design, a claustrophobic atmosphere, committed actors putting in their all, and the opportunity to witness Dracula unleashing carnage on a fateful oceanic voyage — screams echoing through the ship’s winding corridors and stairways as waves crash against the hull under the cover of darkness.

Whether or not due to studio interference, however, “Demeter” refuses to slow down enough to allow its characters to develop, or allow its promising atmosphere to seep into viewers’ bones, turning the unpredictable to predictable through generic staging and framing.

It’s a shame that the film doesn’t spend more time fleshing out its characters (both human and vampiric) early on, as most are reduced to archetypes that, despite some colorful dialogue by Bragi Schut Jr. weaving in occasional dark humor, feel like a missed opportunity for more stakes and dramatic depth. Hawkins, Cunningham, and Franciosi are the standouts — bringing pathos and groundedness to their characters that the screenplay only fitfully provides.

Hawkins, in particular, brings a fierce rage, compassion, and courageousness to Clemens that leads to some poignant moments as the body count rises. Denied opportunities because of the color of his skin and underestimated by his peers — Wojchek reeks of prejudice — Clemens seeks to make sense of the world, encountering a creature that’s the ultimate test of his resolve as literal Evil incarnate.

Corey Hawkins as Clemens in The Last Voyage of the Demeter, directed by André Øvredal.

The film’s attempts to weave these themes into the narrative are heavy-handed, for sure, yet driven home by Hawkin’s commanding screen presence. Cunningham, to a lesser extent, conveys the Demeter’s world-weary Captain with tangible sadness, while Franciosi shines as a wronged heroine eager to fight back against fate.

Dracula himself, as portrayed by Botet, is creepily rendered as the spindly, lightning-fast creature — undergoing physical transformations over the runtime that present new challenges for the sailors to contend with — but is otherwise reduced to a fairly standard movie monster, put in repetitive situations where viewers well-versed in horror rhythms will know beat-for-beat when he shows up to chow down on whichever unlucky sap is in his sights. 

Indeed, it’s a shame that Øvredal doesn’t put Dracula in more creative situations to torment the sailors, or take full advantage of the vessel’s enclosed spaces to ratchet up paranoia and suspense, although Tom Stern’s cinematography adds some stylistic flair though dutch angles and bird’s-eye-view shots that emphasize the feeling of always being watched.

The scare-factor is further lessened by Øvredal’s decision to show Dracula early on breaking from the crew’s perspectives to give away what they’re up against, appealing to short attention spans and not trusting viewers to use their imaginations, like the sailors, to speculate what lurks out of sight. Suffice to say, plot holes rear their heads too, as do illogical decisions (maybe Clemens and co. should fight back during the day, rather than at night when Dracula’s on the prowl).

Taken on its own, lower standards, “Demeter” is always watchable, and sometimes involving, thanks to some impressively grisly carnage (no animal or human is safe) and the aforementioned acting talent on display. There’s a comforting escapism in watching a gothic-inspired bloodbath unfold that doesn’t have high-minded ambitions and takes a cheekily confident approach in laying the groundwork for a future franchise, no matter whether it comes to fruition. Chills, suspense, and memorable characters are absent, but viewers could do much worse than “The Last Voyage of the Demeter,” and on a rainy day, it’s tempting to hop aboard.

LIam Cunningham is the Captain.

“The Last Voyage of the Demeter” is a 2023 horror film directed by Andre Ovredal and starring Corey Hawkins, Javier Botet, Liam Cunningham, Aisling Franciosi, David Dastmachian, Jon Jon Brionis and Woody Norman. It is rated R for bloody violence and runtime is 1 hour, 58 minutes. In opened in theaters Aug. 11. Alex’s Grade: B-.  

 Note: this review was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the movie being covered here wouldn’t exist.

By Alex McPherson

Despite an entertainingly unhinged performance from Nicolas Cage and some impressive kills, director Chris McKay’s “Renfield” is a horror-action-comedy hybrid full of unexplored potential.

Positioned as a quasi-sequel to Tod Browning’s 1931 “Dracula,” “Renfield” begins with a black-and-white prologue introducing us to the story’s characters, creatively inserting Cage and Nicholas Hoult into footage from the original film.

In the present day, R. M. Renfield (Hoult) is caring for his decaying master, Dracula (Cage), in a creepy New Orleans hotel after skilled vampire hunters nearly kill him 90 years prior. Renfield, given powers through consuming insects instead of blood, is Dracula’s “familiar.”

This involves him looking after the Count and retrieving victims. Renfield’s not a monster, though — he targets “bad” folks to bring back — and attends a support group for people in codependent relationships to track down their tormentors for fresh blood. But Renfield’s quite unhappy, guilted and threatened into continued servitude by his narcissistic manipulator, who seeks world domination.

On one of his errands, Renfield has a run-in with Teddy Lobo (Ben Schwartz), a chatterbox enforcer and member of the Lobo crime family, led by his mother Bella-Francesca (Shohreh Aghdashloo), which has ties all over New Orleans and immunity from local police.

Well, everyone except Rebecca Quincy (Awkwafina), an exasperated traffic cop whose father, also a policeman, was gunned down by the Lobos. She seeks justice and revenge, as coworkers and her FBI-agent sister, Kate (Camille Chen), do little to support her. Before long, Renfield and Rebecca cross paths, teaming up to take down the Lobos and Dracula — developing a will-they-won’t-they relationship as each gathers courage to confront their demons.

Fumbling opportunities to be a clever look at codependency and overcoming (literal and figurative) demons, “Renfield” ultimately needs more meat on its bones. The cast is game, the gore is flowing, but pacing is erratic, editing is imprecise, and the script (by Ryan Ridley, from an idea by Robert Kirkman) doesn’t have the guts to go all-in on the concept, leaving a more promising story tantalizingly out of reach.

That’s not to say there’s not fun to be had, particularly regarding Cage and Hoult’s performances. Cage was practically born to play Dracula, and he delivers, providing a satisfying mixture of his characteristic craziness with deadpan wit and, crucially, menace when proceedings call for it.

“Renfield” provides another vehicle for him to flex his chops — aided by masterfully gross makeup effects that at one point see him bully the titular lad while resembling a mangled sack of meat not unlike the Nazis at the end of “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” 

Hoult as Renfield is similarly well-cast, bringing an anxious, sad-sack energy to the film that’s simultaneously quite funny and, in some scenes, poignant, as we witness his (exceedingly rushed) arc towards empowerment. When he’s not engaging in splatterific brawls (one featuring newly removed arms being used as weapons), Hoult brings real pathos to scenes where Dracula berates and mistreats him.

In one memorable sequence, Renfield fruitlessly tries to stand up for himself while reciting lines from a self-help book. The Count laughs and dismisses his arguments with a mocking mean-spiritedness that feels oddly grounded in reality, posturing that “Renfield” aims to be higher-brow than it actually is.

Indeed, the film’s 93-minute runtime and tacked-on subplots limit the development of this central dynamic, which begins as the film’s main focus, but abandons any and all complexity by the finale.

Additionally, “Renfield” clearly tries to paint parallels between Renfield and Rebecca overcoming adversity, but neither are given enough time to leave an impact. Awkwafina is perfectly fine, having serviceable chemistry with Hoult, but she and the rest of the ensemble can only do so much with obvious, reference-heavy humor that lacks wit or surprise — with the exception of the support group, who provide most of the film’s twisted laughs.

The Rebecca/Lobo subplot does, at least, provide opportunities for over-the-top action sequences, which deliver amusing slapstick comedy. “Renfield” won’t disappoint gore-hounds with its abundance of decapitations, impalings, and other fateful excesses, accompanied by fountains of (fake-looking) blood.

If only the film’s cinematography and editing gave more clarity to the carnage; quick cuts and overuse of slow-motion distract from the choreography. More broadly, this imprecision extends to dialogue-heavy scenes, too. The rushed pacing leads to oddly cut sequences sans rhythm or flair — a disappointment, given the detailed production design and capable cast.

We’re left with a fun-enough, though unfortunately generic, experience that plays like an R-rated Saturday morning cartoon. Perhaps that’s acceptable, but “Renfield” dulls its promising conceit into something with considerably less bite.

“Renfield” is a 2023 horror comedy directed by Chris McKay and starring Nicolas Cage, Nicholas Hoult, Ben Schwartz, Awkwafina, Shohreh Aghdashloo, and Camille Chen. It is Rated R for bloody violence, some gore, language throughout and some drug use, and the runtime is 93 minutes. It opened in theatres April 14. Alex’s Grade: B-.   

New Line Theatre, “the bad boy of musical theatre,” announces its 32nd season of adult, alternative musical theatre, including the wild musical comedy JESUS & JOHNNY APPLEWEED’S HOLY ROLLIN’ FAMILY CHRISTMAS, at the Grandel Theatre, Nov. 30-Dec. 16, 2023; followed by the deliciously outrageous SWEET POTATO QUEENS, at the Marcelle Theater, Feb. 29-March 23, 2024; and the season closes with the epic Gothic romance DRACULA, at the Marcelle Theater, May 30-June 22, 2024.

Auditions for the 2023-24 season will be held June 12 and 19, 2023, at the Marcelle Theater. For more info, click here.


Season tickets are on sale now, and single tickets will go on sale in September. New Line’s fall show will be at the Grandel Theatre, and the other two shows will be in the company’s home, the Marcelle Theater, in Grand Center, St. Louis’ arts district.

To order season tickets for the three mainstage shows, Jesus & Johnny Appleweed’s Holy Rollin’ Family Christmas, Sweet Potato Queens, and Dracula, go to

There are three kinds of subscriptions. The First Look Subscription contains tickets for only the Thursday preview for each show. These tickets cannot be exchanged for other dates. Each Regular Subscription includes one ticket for each show in the season. You can use each ticket for any performance date during the run of that show. Each Flex Subscription includes three Flex tickets that you can use at any time for any show during the entire season — use all three tickets for one show or spread them out over the season, however you want! The deadline for ordering season tickets is October 30, 2023.

THE 2023-2024 SEASON

World Premiere
Nov. 30-Dec. 16, 2023
Grandel Theatre

What happens when a family’s secrets are all revealed on one outrageous, pot-fueled Christmas Eve in 1959?

Poor Harry Goodson is about to find out, as he’s visited overnight by his dead twin brother Gerald, Jesus Christ, Sandra Dee, and Johnny Appleweed, and he finally learns what his family already knows, that the answer to all his problems is marijuana!

A wacky companion piece to the unintentionally hilarious 1936 scare film Reefer Madness, this new musical is a tongue-in-cheek response to the War on Drugs, a comic look at what a little pot and a little truth can do to a normal, average, Midwestern, American family at mid-century, just as America plunges into the chaos of the 1960s.

The New Line production will be directed by Scott Miller and Chris Kernan, with music direction by Brett Kristofferson, costume design by Sarah Porter, scenic design by Rob Lippert, lighting design by Matt Stuckel, and sound design by Ryan Day.

For more info, click here.

Regional Premiere
Feb. 29-March 23, 2024
Marcelle Theater

What’s the best medicine for feeling beat up by the world?

Get ready for the outrageous, high-powered, Southern rock musical that tells the true story of “Boss Queen” Jill and her closest friends in Mississippi, and how they learn to grab life by the sequins, feathers and tiaras to live their lives out loud, on their own terms.

This new musical is based on the wildly successful Sweet Potato Queens books by New York Times bestselling author Jill Conner Browne, with music by pop icon Melissa Manchester, lyrics by hit country songwriter Sharon Vaughan, and a book by Rupert Holmes (The Mystery of Edwin Drood).

A New Line subscriber saw the show in L.A. and brought it to the attention of New Line Artistic Director Scott Miller, who decided it was a perfect fit for New Line. There are currently six thousand registered Sweet Potato Queens chapters in over twenty countries around the world.

The New Line production will be directed by Chris Kernan and Scott Miller, with choreography by Kernan, costume design by Sarah Porter, scenic design by Rob Lippert, lighting design by Matt Stuckel, and sound design by Ryan Day.

Produced by arrangement with Theatrical Rights Worldwide, New York.

For more info, click here.

Regional Premiere
May 30-June 22, 2024
Marcelle Theater

How much would you give up for love?

Broadway songwriter Frank Wildhorn (Bonnie & Clyde, Wonderland, Jekyll & Hyde) delivers his most epic score for this riveting, fast-paced, Gothic rock opera, faithful to the iconic novel but with some unexpected twists and turns.

As much a tragic love story as a thriller, this terrifying and passionate retelling of the famous story dives deep into the powerful, shattering emotions of these characters and these complicated relationships, as only musical theatre can. For Dracula, Wildhorn reunites with his Bonnie & Clyde lyricist Don Black, for one of the wildest and most emotional rides you’ve had in the theatre in a long time.

Once again, New Line will take a show that was badly served in New York and savaged by the critics, strip it down, take it seriously, and prove what a powerful piece of theatre it can be when it’s focused on human emotions instead of flashy special effects. Since its debut, the show has become an international sensation in productions around the world.

The New Line production will be directed by Scott Miller and Chris Kernan, with music direction by Dr. Jenna Lee Moore, choreography by Kernan, costume design by Sarah Porter, scenic and lighting design by Rob Lippert, and sound design by Ryan Day.

Produced by arrangement with Music Theatre International, New York.

For more info, click here.


New Line Theatre is a professional company dedicated to involving the people of the St. Louis region in the exploration and creation of daring, provocative, socially and politically relevant works of musical theatre. New Line was created back in 1991 at the vanguard of a new wave of nonprofit musical theatre just starting to take hold across the country.

New Line has given birth to several world premiere musicals over the years and has brought back to life several shows that were not well served by their original New York productions. Altogether, New Line has produced 95 musicals since 1991, and the company has been given its own entry in the Cambridge Guide to American Theatre and the annual Theater World. New Line receives support from the Regional Arts Commission, the Missouri Arts Council, a state agency, the Kranzberg Arts Foundation, and the Grand Center Arts District.

New Line continues its partnership with the Webster University Department of Music and their Bachelor of Music in Music Direction for Musical Theatre degree program.

For more information, visit