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Theater review: 'Children of the Night' at the Beverly Hills Playhouse

October 16, 2009 | 12:20 pm

Children photo 1 Turns out Bram Stoker was once a vampire’s assistant. The “Dracula” author’s day job was managing actor Henry Irving, a Victorian A-lister whose massive ego sucked the life out of his entourage — and was the inspiration for Stoker’s immortal count.

Scott Martin imagines the two artists' clash in his spirited but curiously bloodless musical, “Children of the Night,” now at the Beverly Hills Playhouse.

May, 1897: Backstage at London’s Lyceum Theatre, Stoker (Robert Patteri) desperately tries to interest Irving (Gordon Goodman) in playing Dracula in a staged reading of the unpublished novel, pitching the project as a much-needed commercial venture. Irving refuses, even after his wife, the great Ellen Terry (Teri Bibb), intervenes on Stoker’s behalf. Is Irving’s resistance jealousy, snobbery, or does it signal a rift more profound?

Director David Galligan’s lively production is first-rate, with Broadway and West End veterans in the lead roles (the musical direction is by Ross Kalling). Martin serves up the pleasures of the backstage genre, and “Children” contains what may be the first song devoted to the superstition of never saying the name of Shakespeare’s Scottish play aloud in a theater.

But there is something anticlimactic about a story that turns on an actor’s failure to appear in a play reading. Not a satire, not quite a tale of rivalry, the musical has yet to find the dramatic spine that will give its characters satisfying stakes. Despite rich source material, “Children” finally lacks teeth.

-- Charlotte Stoudt

Children of the Night.” The Beverly Hills Playhouse, 254 S. Robertson Blvd., Beverly Hills. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Ends Nov. 1. $15 and $25. (310) 358-9936, Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes.

Above: Gordon Goodman (Sir Henry Irving) and Robert Patteri (Bram Stoker) in "Children of the Night."  Photo credit: Chris Kane