(In the darkness we hear squeaks and the thin dry sounds of skittering bugs.
A man’s voice begins and the light come up just enough to reveal him:)
- Little bug, crawling there, how’s about a bite?
– What’ya say? How’s about some dejeuner?
Kevin Gray and his wife and collaborator Dodie Pettit brought down the house
last summer with “Tiny Feet” and their haunting duet “ I
know You.” Kevin singing the demented Renfield, clucked and chirped
into the microphone as he coaxed his six and eight legged creatures, and
then gave us chills as Count Dracula finding his way into the vulnerable
heart of Mina. Part of the thrill of the performance was being present at
the birth, as it were, of a new work. Indeed, Stonington audiences were the
first to see excerpts of “Dracula: The Covenant” a new chamber
opera, or parlor piece, co-written by Gray and Pettit. In October the first
staged reading of the full piece was done in Westport, Connecticut. Carol
Estey and I attended the performance, and we left the theatre saying, “How
can we bring this to the ‘Opera House?”
Musicals are expensive, and the Opera House technical facilities are still
being rebuilt. Of course we cold do it again as a stage reading, but Carol’s
directorial juices had begun to surge. She love the music, loved the pacing
and energy. She wanted it on its feet, fully stage, with costumes, perhaps
choreography- and she wanted to direct it herself. Gray and Pettit are old
and dear friends of hers and their every and loyalty and commitment are infectious.
(This is not even to mention their talent.) Carol was clear- this would be
a project of great hear and meaning to her.
The project represents a new direction for both Pettit and Gray. Gray is
a veteran of over 6000 performances, most of them playing leading men on
Broadway. This last year was representative, with regional work all over
the country: Don Quixote in Man of La Mancha, the King in The King and I
, Jekyll and Hyde in Jekyll and Hyde, and the Engineer in Miss Saigon. He
knows theatre deeply from the inside- but e had never written a word of it.
Pettit, another Broadway veteran, has written and recorded pop songs for
years, but when she began to perform in musical theatre on Broadway (in CATS
and the original cast of Phantom of the Opera, which is where she and Gray
met) she became fascinated with that form- music carrying a sustained story
line. And she was discontent searching for something new.
Gray and Pettit are unabashed in their praise of each other. “She
is a Renaissance woman,” Gray says, “She can do so many things
well, and she is always reaching. She shames me into action.” Pettit
was provoking – so much of what she saw produced she didn’t like:
why didn’t they write something? Kevin was a genius, she knew. Someone
should write something particularly for him. Yeah, who? Who else? They were
on tour with Titanic when Dracula was begun.
Gray was a principal but Pettit was working as understudy to eight different
arts (a thing she does easily and well). She had a lot of time on her hands.
Many years before she had seen Frank Langella’s Dracula (directed by
John Wulp, now of Northaven) and now became somewhat obsessed with it. It
seemed a perfect role for Kevin. She kept pitching it to him and on one day
off, driving the countryside around Seattle, she began spinning ideas. She
stopped the car at a WatMart and went in and bought a mini-tape recorder.
The next day she presented him with the overture and Renfield’s song.
The piece was written in rehearsal rooms during that tour- in Seattle, Chicage,
and the opulent ones of The Kennedy Center in Washington D. C. in three months.
After the initial two songs were written they reread Bram Stoker’s
Dracula together: she listened to a lot of Prokofiev, and Kevin wrote the
libretto in a week.
It quickly became apparent to Pettit that in order to keep her stamp on
the piece and turn her handwritten scores into something translatable to
others, she was going to have to learn to arrange music. They came home from
the tour, took their savings and bought a Mac G4 and Dodie went back to school.
She studied orchestration at the New School and Mannes College- and a score
for Dracula: The Covenant was born. Along with a fascinating, seductive obsessive,
and theological new interpretation of the classic.
Pettit and Gray’s new direction mirrors not a new direction for the
Opera House precisely, but one we are old enough new to affirm more strongly:
a commitment to mew work, to work that has its origins at the Opera House.
It is thrilling to watch new work develop. We will all learn a great deal
from setting this brand new piece on its feet, and look to you to help us
think about it and where it goes from here.