Tanz der Vampires or Dance of the Vampires premiered in October 1997 at Vienna's 1,000-seat Raimund Theatre. A $4-million spectacle, this musical spoof proved unlike anything Vienna had seen. Adapted from Roman Polanski's 1967 film, "The Fearless Vampire Killers, or Pardon Me, But Your Teeth Are In My Neck," (in which the director co-starred with his late wife, Sharon Tate), the show was the closest any home-grown stage show had come to "Broadway" or "West End."

Music was by rock composer Jim Steinman, lyricist to Andrew Lloyd Webber on Whistle Down the Wind. Book and lyrics were by Michael Kunze, a Grammy-winning songwriter, TV
writer and foreign language adaptor of Broadway mega-musicals.

Five years later, Vampires is about to have its Broadway premiere. It has a new director in John Rando (Urinetown) and choreography by John Carrafa (Urinetown, Into the Woods - both 2002 Tony and Drama Desk Award nominees. The tuner stars Michael Crawford of Phantom fame as von Krolock, with Rene Auberjonois, Mandy Gonzalez, Max von Essen, Leah Hocking and Ron Orbach in featured roles. Steinman is now credited for music and lyrics (based on Kunze's lyrics), with a book by Kunze, Steinman and zany, avant-garde comic playwright, David Ives
(off-Broadway's one-act collections, Mere Mortals, All in the Timing and Time Flies).

There's another difference. By the time it opens at the Minksoff Theater on December 9, 2002, Dance will have cost over $12-million to mount.

"This is a project that I wanted to do for years," says Roman Polanski. "It took four years to put together our Vienna. The results were quite satisfying."

Dance of the Vampires is Polanski's first stage musical, but he has directed operas (Rigoletto at Munich Opera; Lulu at Italy's Spoleto Festival), plays and, he says, "plays with lots of music, such as Amadeus in Paris (he also starred in his native Poland in 1981) and Terrence McNally's Master Class (also in Paris, starring Fanny Ardant). [In 1988, in Paris, Polanski starred in Stephen Berkoff's adaptation of Kafka's Metamorphosis.]

Steve Barton, a Texan with a long roster of roles in European theater, originated the role of Graf von Krolock and played him in the May 2001 New York workshop of the musical. He died last year, at age 47, of heart failure (though the circumstances of his death remain mysterious). On the West End and Broadway, Barton created the role of Vicomte Raoul in Phantom of the Opera and went on to play the title role. He also starred as Bellini in Jule Styne's ill-fated last musical The Red Shoes and in the world premiere of Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt's Mirette.

The process of creating the original Dance of the Vampires was, as Polanski puts it, "quite international. We had an American composer, a German lyricist and book writer; an American star, an American choreographer [Dennis Cunningham]; designers from England; dancers from Europe and the States; and a Polish director who speaks French, German and English. The book and lyrics were written in English by Michael Kunze, a writer of German origin, and then, as he has done on numerous Broadway musicals for Germany and Austria, he translated it
into German."

Pre-Broadway, The Musical Was Less Camp -- and Much Darker

In Vienna, the show was much darker, which Polanski credits to the trauma he experienced during childhood as the son of a Polish-Jew father and a Russian mother. In 1940, after the Nazis occupied Krakow and built a wall around the Jewish Ghetto, the family planned to immigrate to France. Suspecting arrest, his father arranged an "escape" for his seven-year-old son through a hole in a barbed-wire fence. Polanski was protected by a Catholic family. His parents were sent to a concentration camp. Though his father survived, his mother died at Auschwitz.

Later, living in France, Polanski spent "hours and hours in the cinema, which greatly influenced me. I found comfort in the flickering illusions of such films as Olivier's `Hamlet' and Carol
Reed's `The Third Man'."

Not only is a work of Polanski's onstage
in New York, but his latest film, "The Pianist," which deals with the
ordeals of Jews in Krakow before and during World War II, is being
highly praised. The movie, about how celebrated composer/pianist
Wladyslaw Szpilman eluded capture by the Germans, is the first Polanski
has made in Poland in 40 years. It won the coveted Palme d'Or (Best
Picture) award at the 2002 Cannes International Film Festival.

Polanski,
69, who lives in Paris, made his acting debut in Poland at 14, then worked in radio. At 19, he appeared in his first film, Andrzeu Wajda's "Generation." From 1985 to 1962, he interrupted his acting career to direct four short films. He won the Critics Prize at the 1962 Venice Film Festival for his feature directorial debut, "Knife in the Water." It was nominated for an Oscar as Best Foreign Film. He made his English-language directorial debut with 1964's "Repulsion," starring Catherine Deneuve.

Says Polanski, "I loved directing `The Fearless Vampire Killers or Pardon Me, But Your Teeth Are In My Neck,' but I missed acting. In 1967, in London when we were planning my film, someone suggested it would be great for me to be in and have Sharon co-star."

Tate made a splash as shapely bank secretary Janet Trego in the sitcom "The Beverly Hillbillies." Later, she was the starlet in "The Valley of the Dolls" (1967) and co-starred in the spy
spoof, "Wrecking Crew."
[Pregnant with the couple's first child,
she was murdered with four others in August 1969 by Charles Manson and
members of his "family."]

A European Cult Hit Gets "Butchered for American Distribution

"The Fearless Vampire Killers..." was a huge cult hit in Britain and Europe. "It became one of my most successful films," notes Polanski. "It's my
real claim to fame in Europe.
M-G-M picked up the film for U.S.
distribution, says Polanski, "and that's when my nightmare began. Marty
Ransohoff, who ran the studio, hated it or didn't understand it or
both. He wanted me to re-edit, and I refused. They did it anyway and
butchered it by cutting it from 107 minutes to 87 minutes. He added an
animated section to the beginning to explain all about vampires. After
that kind of chopping, it was impossible to understand. My cut was
never shown in theaters in the U.S." [It eventually became available on
video.]

In the book, "The MGM Story," the film is described as
"an unsubtle whoop-de-do at which some audiences fell about laughing,
while others seemed ready to drive a stake through the movie's heart."
Many
critics seemed deeply disappointed that a director who had shown such
promise would condescend to make such a film. In spite of some good
reviews, the film never caught fire with American audiences. "Even
after being massacred," explains Polanski, "some critics got it, but
its failure at the box-office was a huge, terrible blow."

When
it was suggested as a piece for a stage musical, Polanski explained, "I
wanted to create a different adventure. You cannot simply turn a movie
into a play. You can base the play on the film, but you have to
translate onto the stage something unique. Developing the stage
characters and dialogue and learning what to turn into music took a
while. In my films, I always concentrated on action and reduced the
dialogue. I had to learn a new way to work, then I turned my concept
over to the experts."

Polanski Goes Hollywood

In
spite of Polanski's "Vampire Killers" bomb, Robert Evans, then the
wonder boy head of Paramount Pictures, believed in him. In 1968, he
hand-picked Polanski to direct "Rosemary's Baby." Paramount was then
owned by Gulf & Western, and company CEO Charles Bludhorn (among
others) wanted to fire Polanski. Evans viewed the dailies and was
impressed with what Polanski was doing in his first Hollywood film.
Evans said, to quote the title of the 2002 documentary about Evans,
"the kids stays in the picture."
"Rosemary's Baby" was a smash, and Polanski was Oscar nominated for his screenplay adaptation.

However,
Polanski was less than enamored of the Hollywood experience and
returned to Europe. Evans sent him Robert Towne's complex script for
"Chinatown" (1974). Though in color and quite lavishly produced, it
gave film noir new meaning. Polanski, who appears briefly in the film,
had another huge hit. It was nominated for Best Picture and Best
Director. Leads Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway also received
nominations, while Towne won for Best Screenplay.

Polanski became
Hollywood's newest wunderkind...until another nightmare. In 1977, he
became involved in a scandal with an underage woman, was arrested and
charged with statutory rape. As tabloid headlines screamed, Polanski
jumped bail and fled the U.S., which still considers him a fugitive.

He
continued working in Europe, directing "Tess" (1979) from the Hardy
classic "Tess of the D'Urbervilles," the underrated swashbuckler spoof
"Pirates" (1986) and "Frantic" (1988), filmed in Paris with Harrison
Ford and Emmanuelle Seigner, whom Polanski married in 1989. In 1994, he
directed the film adaptation of Ariel Dorfman's three-character play,
"Death and the Maiden," starring Sigourney Weaver and Ben Kingsley. It
became a U.S. art house hit.

Returning to Vampires, when
Polanski's popular cult film became a gigantic success onstage in
Vienna, it was his dream to take it to London, Paris and Broadway. Now
the show has come to Broadway -- but without Polanski. Amid critical
acclaim and predictions that he will be nominated for an Academy Award
as Best Director for "The Pianist" and with Dance of the Vampires opening on Broadway, can he now reenter the country? 

"You know my situation," replied Polanski. "It hasn't changed."

[END] http://www.hollywoodwiretap.com/content/images/polanski460%5B1%5D.jpg

 

Key Subjects: 
Roman Polanski, Dance of the Vampires, Fearless Vampire Killers, Rosemary's Baby, Robert Evans, Chinatown, David Ives
Writer: 
Ellis Nassour
Writer Bio: 
Ellis Nassour contributes entertainment features here and abroad. He is the author of "Rock Opera: the Creation of Jesus Christ Superstar" and "Honky Tonk Angel: The Intimate Story of Patsy Cline," and an associate editor and a contributing writer (film, music, theater) to Oxford University Press' American National Biography (1999).
Date: 
November 2002