REVIEW: Aurora Fox cast delivers on age-old classic ‘Dracula’

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AURORA | When conjuring up images of the venerable Count Dracula, the likes of Bela Lugosi, Al Lewis’ Grandpa Munster and a certain resident of Sesame Street are likely to come to mind.

draculaSocial media-obsessed snake people may muddy that antiquated equation with some of the more recent personages spawned by Stephenie Meyer, Jemaine Clement and maybe, just maybe, Jason Segel’s not-so-fictional musical from 2008’s “Forgetting Sarah Marshall.” Although, to be fair, there aren’t many people who concern themselves with the opinions of that particular brand of millennial bloodsucker.

But whatever your relationship with the thirstiest man in Transylvania, the 2001 musical stage adaptation by Frank Wildhorn, Don Black and Christopher Hampton, which hit the Aurora Fox MainStage with plenty of blood and pinache last Friday, offers a bowl of undead potpourri that both the Segel and the Lugosi fans can enjoy. The production is an amalgamation of the innumerable 20th century takes on Bram Stoker’s fabled scapegrace.

It’s eerie. It’s raunchy. It’s somehow campy. (And, no, those aren’t adjectives used in the Addams Family theme song — we checked.) The current production at The Aurora Fox manages to serve as a nod to the story’s lengthy list of predecessors without dwelling on its laurels. Still, rest assured  there are plenty of winks to garlic necklaces, burning crucifixes, shunned mirrors and the like.

The Fox’s “Dracula” is equal parts rock opera and midnight movie screening of your favorite cult flick, during which the costumed audience rollicks along to the expected, goofy punchlines. And, thankfully, the show feels more like revisiting an old friend — one that wants to eat you and lure away your lover, but still, a friend — than the hoary mannequin it could easily become. That’s due in no small part to a deceptively complex score, polished cast and nifty bag of stagecraft tricks.

You know the story: A fanged baron from the eastern hills seduces lovers to his castle in order to satisfy his need for human blood. And in this version at The Fox, there’s quite a bit of telepathic fawning, followed by some cross-country hounding to vanquish the beast.

The tale demands a strong cast, and the team on East Colfax delivers. As the eponymous protagonist, Leonard Barrett’s take on the well-worn vampire is pointed, entertaining and downright sinister. He rightfully leads the malevolent charge with musical poise and menacing precision. It also doesn’t hurt that, when not dawning a velveteen hood, his chrome-dome top easily recalls traces of Max Schreck’s cult take on the Nosferatu.

Behind Barrett, leading pieces of monster bait Thadd Krueger as Jonathan Harker and Ethan Knowles as Arthur are deft counterparts to female protagonists Jenna Bainbridge (Mina Murray) and McKayla Marso (Lucy). The quartet offers notable musical chops.

Deeper in the playbill, Gustavo Marquez gives a divine take on Renfeld, Dracula’s distant proxy holed up in a mental institution. Not only does Marquez fully and wholeheartedly dive down the rabbit hole of lunacy, his vocal performance raises eyebrows on more than one occasion.

Michael O’Shea cannot go without praise for offering a satisfying dose of humor as the bumbling balloon of comic relief that is sweet tea-drinkin’ Quincey Morris (great name, by the way).

But perhaps the most surprising takeaway from The Fox’s spooky season opener is how downright risqué — even ribald — things become under the direction of El Armstrong. Between the unabashed baby eating, brief yet veiled nudity, and untamed pelvic undulations that would make Mr. Presley blush, it’s not your grandparent’s night out at the community theater. And that’s a great thing.

The show’s sex appeal and overall mystique of sin is buoyed by some fantastically devilish costumes from Designer Nikki Harrison — Dracula’s first act robe bringing a particularly zingy dollop of grim, somehow Hefner-esque power. And seemingly permanent clouds of fog, flaming crucifixes, blank six shooters and sneaky backdoors definitely don’t hurt that whole suspension of disbelief thing.

For those looking for a head-first dive into the season of fright, The Fox has the show for you. Fresh yet faithful to its slew of memorable forebears, “Dracula” is an entrancing trick-or-treat — but mostly treat.

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“Dracula”

Through  Nov. 6 at the Aurora Fox Arts Center. Performances at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 2 p.m. on Sundays. Adult tickets start at $33. 303-739-1970 or aurorafoxartscenter.org for more information.