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Broadway.com interview
Tom Hewitt
by Kathy Henderson
When you're in previews in the title role of a big Broadway musical, multitasking is a must, so Dracula's Tom Hewitt gamely agrees to combine a Broadway.com interview with a hair-coloring appointment. "Can you do this to me with a phone in my ear?" he asks the colorist, then laughs at the oddity of the situation. Hewitt's Tony-nominated star turn in The Rocky Horror Show proved he can handle just about anything, including being hoisted above the stage of the Belasco Theatre on an vast assortment of invisible wires as he woos Melissa Errico and delivers Frank Wildhorn's moody ballads. The genial star spoke with diplomacy of the demands of anchoring this enormous spectacle of a show.

Why did it take three years for Dracula to make it to Broadway after the first production at the La Jolla Playhouse?
I don't think there's any one reason. Getting a musical on Broadway is always serendipitous. It has to do with money and everybody's availability--it all has to come together magically, and that's hard. And I think [the creative team] felt they needed time to work on the show and let it develop from its first manifestation.

How has it changed?
For me, the changes have been incremental. I got some new and different songs, and I think the overall tone of the show has a bit more drive and passion.

Did you feel sure that you would keep the part when Dracula finally opened here?
It's never a given. Des [McAnuff, the director] has always been into me, but I'm certainly not box office. This is commercial theater, and I understand that. I'm grateful I kept the part, but I never took for granted that I would.

This production takes quite a leap toward musical theater as spectacle. Some parts are almost like Cirque du Soleil. Do you think it helps the show?
I don't think it hurts! We're dealing with a supernatural being, and the more spooky gags we can get in the better. I'm asked this question a lot: Do I feel like I get lost or overwhelmed in the midst of the special effects? I don't at all, I think they enhance and empower the character. It's not about me--it's about Dracula, and his context is magical and supernatural. So I love the flying, I love dropping into that big pit, and I love riding on all that stuff onstage. I think it's great! Let's give the people a show. Why not?

I was surprised that Des McAnuff addressed the audience before the fifth preview began, warning us that the show might have to stop for technical glitches.
We really appreciate him doing that because it gives us permission to stop if we feel danger. This is a really complex set; there are seven elevators in the floor and three flying tracks; the set seems to be in constant motion, and every step you take could be your last. It's hard and it's dangerous and we're still figuring things out. The likelihood of us stopping is strong, so he's wise to alert people; it, it makes us feel safer.
Frank Wildhorn has never been a critical favorite. Do you think this show is going to change that?
I don't know. Historically, the critics have not been very kind to him, but criticism is none of my business. My business is to show up and do the best I can. I think our title is going to help us sell, and I think the show is good. We've gotten enthusiastic response already, and I think we may succeed even though there may be some negative reviews. It's a musical with vampires, so that's bound to happen and we're all braced for it.
How you would sum up the appeal of Dracula?
Well, the appeal has certainly been long lasting [Laughs], and it doesn't seem to go away; in fact it seems to grow and grow. As a child, I was raised on the Bela Lugosi movie and Barnabas Collins in Dark Shadows, and I loved the Anne Rice books. It seems like every time you turn on the television, there's some vampire-related thing somewhere.
How did you come up with your take on the character?
The first third of the show is based largely on the novel, so I studied the novel very closely. But for me a lot of this job is not doing anything. I get to show up in Cathy Zuber's great costumes and Howell Binkley's great lights and Heidi Ettinger's fantastic set; I let the set do a lot of the acting for me. Des McAnuff repeatedly uses the phrase "The court makes the king." So it's really how people behave toward Dracula's presence as opposed to how Dracula behaves.
Your Dracula doesn't try to charm the audience.
You don't find me charming? [Laughs]
What I mean is that you don't seem to be trying to win the audience over; you aren't putting humor into the role or playing it with a twinkle in your eye.
Those decisions aren't up to me. I love big, broad characterizations, and if I were left to my own devices, I'd probably [Launches into an unintelligible sentence in a Transylvanian accent]. It took a little work for Des to rein that in.
He told you to play it seriously.
Yeah, pretty much. That's not an exact quote, but we really tried to steer away from the campier aspects of the character. They're there regardless, so you don't have to lay them on with a trowel.
I found it interesting that you stayed in character during the curtain call.
That may change, I think they want me to smile for the last bow, but right now they've told me not to smile. That's a little weird!
You have good chemistry with Melissa Errico. Did it come naturally?
The minute I met her, there was something going on there. I knew we would be a good match. She's not only stunning looking and great in the part, but she said to me, "Okay, I've got your back and you've got mine. Let's look out for each other." And we have. It's been really fun and absolutely effortless in that regard.
How do you feel about the nudity in the show? [Hewitt rips Melissa Errico's top open in one scene, and co-star Kelli O'Hara is totally nude with her back to the audience in another.] Is it necessary?
Those decisions aren't up to me, but I don't mind it, There's a dangerous sensuality in Bram Stoker's novel that manifested itself in covert, oppressed Victorian ways. To get any sort of sexual danger on the stage, we have to be more overt, more up to date. So I think that's why it's there, I don't think it's gratuitous; I think it's there for a reason.
I find it fascinating that you didn't do musicals for the first 20 years of your career. Was that a conscious choice?
Partly. I was never uninterested in musicals, but I never really felt I was a strong enough singer; I thought Broadway musicals were for famous people and great singers and dancers and I wasn't those things. My training was in the classics and I had a good life in the avant garde and regional theater, so musicals were never really an aspiration. But through that [avant garde] world, I met Julie Taymor who cast me as Scar in The Lion King, and I've only done musicals since then.
Did you find your classical background helpful for doing musicals?
It has definitely served me well in playing these larger than life characters. You know, Frank 'N' Furter [in The Rocky Horror Show] is royalty, Dracula is royalty. In their way, these are classic, mythical characters, so all of that background really helped.
Is your real-life personality larger than life?
Oh my God, no. And my partner would certainly agree. I go home and grab the remote as fast as I can. I don't go to bars, I'm not really a party guy. I'm really quiet and have few friends. [Laughs] I get to let all that out onstage in a controlled and rehearsed environment.
Is your partner in the business?
Yes, he's an actor.
Would I know who he is?
I'd rather not say. We've agreed not to talk about each other.
Fair enough. I read that you enjoy being anonymous. You've never wished that at this point in your career you were a big sitcom star or doing movies?
No, no, no--this is big enough for me right now! I'm not too interested in playing doctors or lawyers or the funny guy next door. Maybe eventually, in my dotage, I'll do that; I've got a lot of years left. But I'm having fun doing this. It's enough. Believe me, it's plenty!
Is this what you pictured yourself doing, say, five years ago?
Never in my wildest dreams. I thought The Lion King was a fluke and I that I would go back to doing classical plays in regional theater. I would still love to do that; I'm not speaking disparagingly of that. But to be the title character in a big musical? Never.
There's no secret you can share for being sexy on stage?
That's for the audience to decide. I always hope that another character will say I'm sexy so the audience will believe it. [Laughs]
So, is Bob Cuccioli [original star of Frank Wildhorn's Jekyll & Hyde] going to be your special guest on opening night?
I'm going to have Doug Sills [of The Scarlet Pimpernel] on one arm and Bob Cuccioli on the other!