A few weeks ago, a staged reading of a new musical took place for one afternoon only. Based on Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu‘s gothic classic of vampires and sapphic love, Carmilla was penned by the same man who also wrote a three character musical based on Marie Antoinette. I had the good fortune to interview him and ask a few questions.
Here is the press blurb:
Inspired by the 1871 novel by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, Carmilla follows Vanessa, an adorable young Englishwoman, who lives with her father in an inherited Gothic castle in Central Europe, surrounded by superstitious peasants. She is about to marry a handsome Viennese doctor, when passion comes into her life for the first time in the form of Carmilla, a beautiful, supernatural, irresistible presence.
Mr. Gross understandably felt reluctant to reveal too many details of a show that remains in development. He happily noted that 200-seat house was nearly full for the reading, and seemed pleased (if surprised) at just how many adaptations of Carmilla are out there (he deliberately avoided looking up any, lest they influence him). A quick glance at the press blurb above reveals several changes from the text–not least that changing of the name of every single character save one! He said this was to mark his musical as a personal re-telling rather than a straight adaptation. He described how the lead character Vanessa (Laura in the novella) as well as her father are both “fish out of water,” two very English people in the heart of the alien nation of Austria. He noted Vanessa even has a song titled “Why Can’t the World Be More Like England?”
More is made in the musical of Vanessa’s father’s grief over the loss of his wife (who may or may not have been a victim of Carmilla), while Vanessa herself comes across as someone far more conventional than the character in the novella. She’s engaged to a physician a mere decade older than herself (hardly unusual at the time), awaiting his attaining a certain position which will make his future secure. Likewise the character of Carmilla’s mother (identified as “Countess Moreth”) is made a far more central person than in the original. He noted she even has a song titled “Who We Are” offered in the face of Carmilla’s growing unhappiness at eternal loneliness and eternal hunger, as well as a growing love for her latest prey.
The playwright noted that further development of the script, along with musical director Nathan Patten, remains. Hopefully another staging will be seen later this year, one fully mounted and in some venue that can test the waters for a larger production. A Broadway run, the goal for nearly any musical other than the most modest, is a goal.
The cast and crew at the York Theatre Company where the staged reading took place March 3, 2015 included director Gabriel Barre, with assistant direction by Drew Feldman, and music supervision and arrangements by James Abbott. The cast saw Leenya Rideout in the title role, with Julia Burrows as Vanessa Warwick, Michael Minarik as Dr. Johan Hoffman, Kaye Tuckerman as Countess Moreth, and Nick Wyman as Colonel Warwick. The ensemble will featured as well Liz Kimball, Darren Matthias, Michael Padgett, Kristin Parker, Clifton Samuels, Eveline Suter, and Erica Sweany.