When Edward Gorey Created Set Designs & Tony Award-Winning Costumes for a Broadway Production of Dracula (1977)

Edward Gorey and Hal­loween go togeth­er as well as Drac­u­la and Hal­loween. Bring the three togeth­er (well, it’s almost Hal­loween), and you’ve got a tri­umvi­rate of clas­sic, wicked, scary fun. The align­ment of these dark stars first occurred, Olivia Rutigliano writes at CrimeReads, when a Gorey-designed pro­duc­tion of Drac­u­lapre­miered on Broad­way at the Mar­tin Beck The­ater on Octo­ber 20th, 1977, just in time for Hal­loween.” Star­ring Frank Lan­gel­la in the title role, “the pro­duc­tion was a smash,” and Gorey, who designed the sets, cos­tumes, posters, play­bills, and mer­chan­dise, won a Tony the fol­low­ing year.

To hear Gorey tell it, in Episode 4 of “Goreytelling,” an ani­mat­ed series of pre­vi­ous­ly unheard record­ed inter­views with the reclu­sive writer/illustrator, he was “only too con­scious of not being a real set design­er or a real cos­tume design­er or a real any­thing…. I designed it the only way I could.” His seem­ing pain over the whole thing extends to the play itself. “I don’t know what any­body saw in it, exact­ly,” he says, “but it was a big hit.”

The play was first staged in 1973, and for years, Gorey says, each time a the­ater com­pa­ny decid­ed to put it on, he was called up to con­sult. He duti­ful­ly turned up each time, scowl­ing glum­ly and won­der­ing why. When it final­ly hit Broad­way, he saw two-thirds of a rehearsal and left “jaun­diced.” The final prod­uct left an even more sour taste. It was, he says, “absurd,” but very lucra­tive. As for the Tony, he says iron­i­cal­ly, the award turned out to be “the cross I had to bear,” an embar­rass­ing acco­lade for cos­tumes he deemed unwor­thy of the hon­or.

Rutigliano deems the set designs “gor­geous… three giant tableaux, in his famil­iar inky, metic­u­lous style” and fea­tures a few pho­tographs from a pro­duc­tion in Hous­ton. We would not expect oth­er­wise from Gorey, who was always him­self and always a pro­fes­sion­al. The sets have lived on in photos—some fea­tur­ing Lan­gel­la, some his suc­ces­sor, Raul Julia—in minia­ture mod­els, and in the brief but sort-of com­pelling pro­duc­tion of “Drac­u­la: Star­ring Edward Gorey’s Toy The­atre,” just below. Gorey also cre­at­ed an illus­trat­ed edi­tion of Drac­u­la in 1996.

“It should be not­ed,” Goreyana writes, “that all the sets for Drac­u­la were hand paint­ed by tal­ent­ed scene shop artists. Every cross hatched line on the walls, fur­ni­ture, and floor had to be recre­at­ed to size by hand.” This is indeed impres­sive, and Gorey is prob­a­bly right: the sets, which he also seemed to loathe, were prob­a­bly more deserv­ing of the Tony than the cos­tumes. “The over­all aes­thet­ic,” says Rutigliano, “match­es the peri­od of the orig­i­nal Broad­way run, the 1920s.” (The pro­duc­tion won anoth­er Tony for Most Inno­v­a­tive Revival.)

The orig­i­nal the­ater adap­ta­tion was com­mis­sioned by Bram Stoker’s wid­ow, Flo­rence, “as part of her copy­right cru­sade against F.W. Murnau’s Nos­fer­atu.” It debuted in Eng­land in 1924, then pre­miered on Broad­way in 1927 with a then-unknown Bela Lugosi. “This pro­duc­tion would be adapt­ed, in turn, by the direc­tor Tod Brown­ing into the famous 1931 Drac­u­la film.” Gorey him­self may have hat­ed it, but the play he so metic­u­lous­ly brought back to life in the 70s descend­ed, in a way, in a long, ven­er­a­ble, undead line, from the orig­i­nal Drac­u­la him­self.

via CrimeReads

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

Edward Gorey Talks About His Love Cats & More in the Ani­mat­ed Series, “Goreytelling”

When Edward Gorey Designed Book Cov­ers for Clas­sic Nov­els: See His Iron­ic-Goth­ic Take on Dick­ens, Con­rad, Poe & More

Hor­ror Leg­end Christo­pher Lee Reads Bram Stoker’s Drac­u­la

Watch Nos­fer­atu, the Sem­i­nal Vam­pire Film, Free Online (1922)

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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