By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Plasmatically speaking, let's give the new musical Fire and Blood, making its debut at Richland College, a B-negative. It's a big, ambitious mess of a show, with book and lyrics by Richland drama prof Andy Long (who also directed) and music by Dallas composer and musical director Adam C. Wright.
Based ever so loosely on Bram Stoker's Dracula, the two-act musical betrays some not-subtle influences, musically and thematically, from Glee, Romeo and Juliet, West Side Story, Phantom of the Opera, Spring Awakening, Gossip Girl, My Fair Lady, The Little Mermaid and the 2006 Spike Lee documentary When the Levees Broke. It's musical-theater gumbo, spiced with a few intriguing ideas and several pleasantly haunting melodies, but weakened by a cast of 25 students who mostly sing tentatively and dance awkwardly. (Choreographer Michael Albee has given them easy steps, but they struggle.) There's enthusiasm onstage in Fire and Blood, just not enough sparks of talent to make it a blazing success.
Long has placed his horror tuner in post-Katrina New Orleans, where a sexy young vampire named Stoker (Zack Jones, who sings OK but moves like his knees are locked) stalks nightclubs for prey. The show opens with lengthy bits of exposition, starting with a solo sung by a beautiful voodoo priestess named Mama (played by Renonda Taylor, who can s-i-n-g) describing a "City beneath the Sea" where evil spirits dwell. Dredged up by Katrina's floodwaters, bloodthirsty demons have infiltrated the Crescent City, feeding on its young. Cut to a number called "The Humans Will Provide," introducing Silk, a 220-year-old gay vampire (played by Cody Samples with a swish that will blow your hair back), his muscled butch minion Randall (Ryan Nelson), and Stoker, who slithers up onto the stage like a lizard in leather skinny jeans.
After that, Fire and Blood is all kind of a blur of too many themes that overlap but don't pay off. One scene has the rich people of New Orleans singing about skimming millions off the Katrina recovery funds. Then a pretty girl named Angel (Bridget Condra) and her boyfriend Harper (Kevin Dang) have a spat and she ends up in the sinewy arms of Stoker during a rave at which all the human kids wear glow-in-the-dark outfits and the vampire kids (who are way better looking) stomp in wearing black-and-red ensembles. A dance-off à la West Side Story ensues. When all the humans are dead and scattered around the stage floor like glow-in-the-dark rag dolls, Silk and Randall smooch for no other reason than to piss off the conservative parents in the audience.
There's another hour or so to go after that, with four song reprises, a church service and one good solo by Stoker singing "Learn to Fly" to Angel as he prepares to drain her carotid artery. But wait! Is that Harper to the rescue? It is. He and Angel (both non-singers straining to find pitch) reunite for the duet "I Live You," the lyrics of which are rendered unintelligible — as are most in the score — by the auditorium's sound system, which muffles and distorts to a distressing degree. Were they really singing about "the anal spring" and how "death comes to N'Awlins between two bedpans"?