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Theatre Gets Spooky with Technically Ambitious 'Dracula'

The Theatre of Western Springs opens its Halloween show today—one of the most challenging in recent memory—a take on Stoker's great vampire classic.

“Children of the night—what music they make!”

It has taken the Theatre of Western Springs practically unprecedented music—and set-building, and lighting, and special effects, and a whole heap of practice—to bring this year’s Halloween show, Dracula, to fruition.

“For a theatre like ours, it really presents a number of technical challenges,” said TWS managing director Bill Hammack. “The show itself is monstrous. It’s been many years since we’ve had this much lumber on our stage.”

That lumber stands as, among other things, the ever-famous Gothic Transylvanian castle of Count Dracula, where an unwitting Jonathan Harker uncovers the famous vampire’s plan to terrorize London. Harker and friends battle to piece together Dracula’s mystery before he can take more blood—and lives.

The Dracula story is a well-known classic with dozens of unique adaptations; director Rick Snyder has chosen a script by Steven Dietz that remains largely faithful to Bram Stoker’s novel while playing up the story’s sensuality.

“It’s a great script,” said Rich Kropp of Glen Ellyn, who plays the howling-mad Renfield. “It’s got something in it for everybody: sex, high adventure, a lot of humor also. It’s got everything.”

But it is also an extremely demanding script, pushing the Theatre to its limits for technical complexity and special effects. Characters move from location to location quickly all on the same stylized set, sometimes even back in time. The actors must also respond to an endless stream of sound and lighting cues.

“It’s really been challenging, but it’s a great deal of fun,” said director Snyder. “I love problem-solving like this. If I do say so, it’s quite a lovely-looking production.”

The eponymous vampire is played by relative TWS newcomer Chris Bruzzini of Melrose Park, who has actually performed as the Count once before, many years ago, in a more abridged and more comedic take. Here, he aims for a mix of sexuality and terror, with a slinking menace, contacts that reduce his pupils to dots and (at points) a wig of long, flowing hair.

“The way that we’re trying to do it is something that’s based in honesty and integrity, where he really wants to frighten people, but through seduction, and control them, and manipulate them,” Bruzzini said of his Dracula.

Bruzzini also had plaudits for the Theatre’s crew, who rose to the occasion to tackle the show’s difficulty.

“That’s the best thing about this community theatre. It puts more community in community theatre than any other community theatre where I’ve worked, where everybody does a little bit of something,” said the show’s Count. “And I’m glad to be a part of that.”

As a bonus addition to the show, the Theatre is hosting a “Night of the Vampire” Halloween party from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. for ticket-holders before the show on Friday, Oct. 19, with food, a haunted-house lobby and a special appearance from Count Dracula himself.

Dracula plays at the Theatre of Western Springs on Oct. 18, 19, 20, 25, 26 and 27 at 8:00 p.m., Oct. 21, 27 and 28 at 2:30 p.m. and Oct. 21 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $18-20 and can be purchased by calling 708-246-3380 or at the Theatre’s website.

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