This past weekend, I took a trip to Arizona to once again attend the award-winning dance opera, Lisa Starry’s A Vampire Tale, at the Phoenix Theatre Little Theatre. Written, directed and choreographed by Lisa Starry, owner of the Scorpius Dance Theatre—which presents this terrific show for two weeks every October—Lisa Starry’s A Vampire Tale is a play of love, desire, loss and transformation told almost entirely through dance. It focuses on Eve (also known as “the Innocent”) who finds herself caught in the den of a vampire klan led by the evil Vampire Queen and her love, Viktor. When Viktor takes a very infatuated liking to Eve (and her human nature), the jealous Queen does whatever it takes to end his desire for both.
This is the third time I’ve seen this terrific play over the last four years but it never gets old, mostly because Lisa Starry has chosen to alter the play just enough each year to keep it fresh and alive. Sequences and dance numbers that are integral to the actual story and character development remain intact (with perhaps a few adjustments to the routines to keep them updated), while other parts change to showcase a certain guest artist and/or help bolster the development further—and in some cases are exiled completely if Lisa finds a piece has become too stagnant to remain.
Take for example the opening sequence. The first year I went, the show opened with a short video introducing us to Eve as the vampire klan chased after her. When the film was over, Eve was on stage continuing her performance from the film, only to finally meet Viktor for the first time. This year, the show opened with the introduction of the vampires—first the girls, then the guys. We were then introduced to Eve via a fun little bit of audience participation, which led to pulling Eve from the audience (which I believe was similar to the second show I saw).
This year also saw the introduction of a pair of pole dancers, which to be honest, I found a little more distracting than anything else. Nothing against guest performers Chase Jarvis and Lindsay Green—their strength, athleticism and focus is remarkable. But in relation to the show itself, it just felt out-of-place. Then again, the female performer was quite beautiful to watch, so there was that. Other than this, though, the show was as perfectly executed as any other.
The entire cast consists of extremely talented dancers, who are also very good performers, able to craft complete characters with emotion presented not only through their facial expressions, but in the simple movement of their bodies. Only one character, the Strange Man, ever speaks, and that is mostly to interact with the audience or act as comic relief between scenes as he tries to help Eve assimilate to her new environment. A variety of actors have portrayed the Strange Man over the years, and nothing against Damon Dering, the actor who performed at this year’s show (and who’s just as funny as any other Strange Man), but I must say that Eric Boudreau (the Strange Man from the first performance I saw) had a spark and a refined control over his performance that hasn’t been matched by any other.
Unfortunately, this year saw the final performance of David Starry (Lisa’s husband) as Viktor. A tremendous force on stage (especially when he first appears from the rafters), David embodies a sex appeal that is haunting and evil, yet pure and full of sorrow, enhanced by the extremely subtle inflections he uses to brood over Eve. I’m sure whomever they find to replace David next year (and the year’s to come) will do just fine, but they definitely have some big shoes to fill… at least in my eyes. (This year, the shows 10th Anniversary, also saw the end of Eric Boudreau’s Strange Man… sad, but Damon Dering certainly proved he can hold his own.)
As far as the dance sequences themselves, my favorites include “The Arrangement” (in which Viktor and the Vampire Queen dance on top of and around a grand piano, coming to an agreement about what needs to be done, set to “Something I Can Never Have” by Nine Inch Nails), “Coffin” (in which the members of the Klan seduce each other inside their coffins) and “Falling” (in which Viktor makes his final decision toward Eve). Each of these highlight the fire, the sexiness and the gravitas that are the cornerstone of the entire play. Ironically, my absolute favorite scene, the dinner party, is the one scene that does not include any dancing at all. It’s a fun little scene right before the intermission that allows the performers to showcase their comedic chops while still advancing the plot—and like most everything else, what they do at that dinner table is always evolving; if you’re not paying attention (or focusing on one performer over another), you’re guaranteed to miss some comedy gold.
Lisa Starry’s A Vampire Tale is one of those shows that you just can’t help telling others about. Granted, I probably would never have seen it if my sister wasn’t one of the performers (who, I must mention, has moved from an apprentice Klan Member in her first year with the company to become a prominent featured dancer; so much so that she was given the opportunity to choreograph the tango sequence that has appeared in the show the last few years), but ever since the first time I saw the show, I’ve felt a connection to it. I’m not sure what it was, exactly, but there’s something about it that instantly captivated me and made me want to somehow be a part of it, even going so far as to write an unauthorized screenplay adaptation. Of course, I don’t expect this to go anywhere, as the show is Lisa’s baby and as any writer knows, we can be extremely territorial about our work. But at least I did it, if nothing more than for my own satisfaction.
The show I saw was the final night of this year’s performances (except for an encore performance next week in Helena, Montana), but if you’re ever in the Phoenix area in the middle of October, this is certainly one attraction you’ll want to get tickets to see. From the makeup to the costumes (some of which my sister designed and crafted!), to the music and the choreography, everything works to generate one wildly entertaining, funny and sexy night with a vampire klan you won’t soon forget.