Music Review – “Vamp” (Jake Perrine, 2001)

vampperrine


I was introduced to this Gothic rock-opera by a friend several years ago, rediscovered it recently, and was amazed how much influence from it had seeped into my own work: in particular, its villain-protagonist Alexandra has more than a little in common with the antagonist of “Wolves of Dacia.” That being so, and since I never paid a penny for it (having been gifted the CD, back in the days of its limited CD run – it is download-only now), it seems only fair to give it a bit of a boost …

Originally an off-Broadway production by actor and musician Jake Perrine of Warp Academy, “Vamp” is a three-act synth-rock opera (the script almost entirely sung) with diverse influences, from traditional opera and classic musicals (the author specifically cites Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd”, and it certainly has a similar blood content, at any rate …) to Peter Gabriel and Nine Inch Nails. Conscious influences aside, however, the word “Goth” will be on the tip of your tongue for most of the show, and given the subject matter (“Vamp” does what it says on the tin …) the composer could hardly complain.

The main character, Alexandra, is a vampire: this is no spoiler, as unlike Dracula she has the consideration to clue the audience in right from the word go (as opposed to her victims, who enter stage right in all innocence and ignorance). She is of indeterminate (though implied great) age, highly cultured, an exquisite pianist, deeply depressed, nihilistic, murderous, and evil. She is very much the vampire as addict / junkie, disgusted by her condition and dependency, yet finding it her only way of regaining some sense of purpose and pleasure in her “life”, and unable to find the will to break the cycle.

Her modus operandi, apparently, is setting herself up as a private arts tutor, insinuating her way into families, and thus grooming potential victims from a young age (It seems that the memories of her victims have some bearing on the quality of the “blood vintage”, so to speak, so she aims to encourage her marks to lead interesting and fulfilling lives before she deems them ripe enough for the preying). Three such victims, now adults, have now come to “spend the weekend” with her, unaware it is doomed to be their last. In order of least to most sympathetic, there is the ironically-named* Simon – a narcissistic actor overly-fond of reminding everyone that he used to play “Dracula” in the West End; Rosemary – a fiction writer, and the much put-upon girlfriend of Simon; and Carmine – a devout, weak-willed artist who is undergoing a crisis of faith, not helped by his “friends” using him to get revenge on each other. Their friendship, as one quickly gathers, is tenuous at best, but all three are bonded in their Stockholm Syndrome-like devotion to and admiration of Alexandra: her easy charisma, gracefulness, profound knowledge, and artistic mastery seeming to show up their own inadequacies, and all three of them craving her acceptance … which from the audience’s POV is clearly a bad thing. For Alexandra has decided she might be able to improve her miserable immortal lot if she “spares” one of the three meals-in-waiting to become her eternal companion. Will she make the right choice? Is there, indeed, a right choice?

Enough said on the plot, suffice to say it is very twisty, and I would recommend buying the full soundtrack with the PDF libretto, as it will prove most enlightening: not only on the complex philosophical lyrics but also on the staging (One would otherwise have no way of knowing that Alexandra is so pitifully dependent upon her grand piano for solace, it also doubles as her coffin / bed. Nor indeed that she is constantly haunted by the shadowy spectres of her former victims, and that she can stop time at will when she feels like a “snack’). As in any opera, however, the music is where it is at, and “Vamp” – in spite of its modest resources – has it where it counts, from its grandly melancholy overture, to its darkly humorous “patter” sections in act 2, to its more catchy “poppy” numbers (“Sometimes at Night” and “Fallen” are especially hummable, if hardly upbeat), to the “turning” scene in act 3 – a tour de force of both menacing and haunting melodies and surreal, nihilistic lyrics that really does capture as well as pure audio ever could the sense of humanity slipping away in favour of something dark, seductive, and destructive. As for the vocal performances, they are all commendable, although the stand-out is Beverly Butrie as the tortured Alexandra. She creates a character who, like any well-realised vampire, manages to charm the audience / listener in spite of her incredible moral awfulness, meaning we are rather pleased when the escalating conflicts force her to examine what she has become … but to say more on that would be telling.

I would love to see this performed live one day, but I think it very unlikely (While a new version was staged recently, it was only in Hungary). As such, the 2001 New York cast recording remains – to my knowledge – the only way to enjoy it, as I dare hope I may now have persuaded a few other vampire-junkies to do …


* If one happens to be a “Castlevania” fan, that is.

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