Friends, the other day while finishing out my shift down here in the Retroist Vault – I had the good fortune of being visited by Rockford Jay. It turns out he was lending a hand to the Projectionist, aiding in some filing of that shadowy cinephile’s vast collection of film memorabilia… and he came across this 1978 souvenir program from the Broadway production of Dracula. While we thumbed through the program we were amazed to learn that Raul Julia played Dracula!
Rockford originally brought it to me to check out because he knows how big a fan I am of the artwork of the late and great Edward Gorey. Who as it turns out was hired in 1973 to tackle the costume and set designs for the revival of the 1927 version of the Broadway play – a production based off the 1924 original that debuted in the UK. A stage show I should add that totally had the blessing’s of Bram Stoker’s widow – in fact at the time the original show was being put together, Stoker’s Wife was using the money from the show to help pay for her court case against F. W. Murnau’s unauthorized 1922 film adaptation entitled Nosferatu!
I first became familiar with the delightful artwork of Edward Gorey through television. For the intro on the long running PBS series Mystery! – a show that has had the Gene Shalit, Vincent Price, Alan Cumming, and Dame Diana Rigg as hosts. I’m sure you too are familiar with the animated opening of Mystery! but just in case you are not, here it is for your viewing pleasure.
Edward Gorey’s unique art style was employed for the sets to great effect as was his costume designs for the 8 characters used in the play. It bears pointing out that in the 1927 Broadway version of Dracula that playwright John L. Balderston deleted many characters or altered them to better suit an American audience. Characters such as Quincey Morris (My favorite I will add) and Arthur Holmwood have been excised as has Mina – elements of her character now merged with the character of Lucy Seward, who is now the daughter of Dr. Seward and the love interest of Jonathan Harker. Rounding out the cast of eight characters are the Maid, Miss Wells, the butler Butterworth, Renfield, Abraham Van Helsing and obviously Count Dracula. Take a moment and check out this vintage photo of the catacombs set – courtesy of Goreyana by way of the New York Public Library Digital Collections.
Of particular interest to Rockford Jay and myself and the very reason I’m writing this article is that the iconic Count was played on stage by some incredible actors. Such as Frank Langella who played Dracula beginning in 1977, leaving the role I can only assume to play the part in John Badham’s 1979 film adaptation. Which allowed the late and great Raul Julia to swoop in with what appears to be a satin cape and make the part his own.
Also of note is that the popularity of the Dracula revival led to Terence Stamp (Superman and Superman II) to play the Count in UK production in 1978. The Broadway version received two Tony awards – one for Edward Gorey’s costume design as well as Most Innovative Production of a Revival. Sadly there does not appear to be any surviving video from the Dracula performances – although at the very least we can watch this charming video uploaded by Topic that has audio from the artist on the subject of the play itself.