Monday, February 6, 2017

Dance of the Vampires - For Sarah

Jim Steinman is quiet possibly the most underrated song writer of all time.

Steinman is best known for his work with Meat Loaf, as he wrote literally every song Meat Loaf recorded until the half and half mix of “Bat Out of Hell 3.” However, he was very busy during the eighties and nineties writing a lot of music for female pop stars, namely Ellen Foley, Bonnie Tyler, and Pandora’s Box. He also wrote the music for the cult classic, street gang fight, musical, “Streets of Fire.” Lastly, his biggest success outside of his collaboration with Meat Loaf must be his creation of songs like “It’s all Coming Back to Me Now,” which was made famous by Canada’s Celine Dion, so yeah, we have Jim to blame for that, but still, an impressive resume. However, his greatest accomplishment outside of Meat Loaf, must be his 1997 musical creation “Tanz der Vampire” or “Dance of the Vampire.”

1967's "The Fearless
Vampire Killers."
“Dance of the Vampires” is a rock opera based off of Roman Polanski’s 1967 comedy horror film “The Fearless Vampire Killers.” The basic plot of both is Professor Abronsius and his assistant Alfred are attempting to prove that vampires exist when they meet the genuine article, Graf von Krolock. At the same time, they meet Sarah, the innkeeper’s daughter, and Alfred immediately falls in love with her, but unfortunately Krolock has also taken notice of the beautiful young girl and decides to make her his.

A wonderful thing about writing hundreds of songs for other people is you get to keep the rights to those songs and use them however you see fit, which is exactly what happens with “Dance of the Vampires.” Steinman rehashes some of his past songs and reworks them for this vampire adventure. The most prominent example being Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of The Heart” now reworked as “Vampires in Love:”

"Total Eclipse of The Heart" now with vampires... finally:

Other notably examples of Steinman doing this include; “Original Sin” which was originally performed by Pandora’s Box; “Is Nothing Sacred” was originally recorded by Meat Loaf on the “Very Best of” album; “Confession of a Vampire” is a rework of “Objects in the Rear-View Mirror may Appear Closer Than They Are,” from “Bat Out of Hell 2;” and the closing title track “Dance of the Vampires” is a rework of the main theme from the movie “Streets of Fire” called “Tonight is What it Means to be Young.” These are all interesting songs to explore and discuss, but some of the original material from “Dance of the Vampires” really stand out as some of the best songs in the play. I am extremely fond of “Carpe Noctem” but I prefer to focus on the key love song from the play “For Sarah.”

Marjan Shaki as Sarah
As mentioned before Sarah is the innkeeper’s beautiful daughter and Alfred falls madly in love with her at first sight. Our vampire lord Krolock spirits Sarah away and Alfred exclaims his resolve to find and save her in this epic ballad “For Sarah.”

On paper “For Sarah” is a rather simple song, just piano and a singer, but it follows the more complicated center piece of the musical’s “Carpe Noctem” so it is meant to be a softer song, a quiet and sweet moment for Alfred to express the strength of his love and conviction to save the damsel in distress. What makes this song special is the singer himself. I have seen several different individuals perform this song live online and while some are more impressive than others I have enjoyed them all. It is a truly nice love song surrounded by fantastic factors, I mean vampires and all, and that makes the level of declared potential sacrifice a little more serious since actual death lays around the corner for our heroes.

Now, most people reading this have probably never heard of “Dance of the Vampires” and that has a lot to do with the utter failing to bring the musical in the United States. The original “Tanz Der Vampire” was a huge hit in Austria and Germany, and from everything I seen, heard and read about it, the German language version is superior to the English one in every conceivable way; but why is that? The songs were all written by an American, why did the US version fail so catastrophically. Well according to Steinman, the cast and crew in the US version did not take it seriously, and I can kind of understand why. The movie that inspired the story for “Dance of the Vampires” was a comedy, and the subject matter is silly and also rather trite in our current cultural zeitgeist regarding vampires. I mean “Vampires in Love” how cliché has that idea become?

Nonetheless Steinman is correct. Too many jokes were inserted into the English version. The great charm of “Tanz Der Vampires,” and the song “For Sarah,” was the passion put into it by it’s performers. The Germans and Austrians took this musical very seriously and they put together a highly emotional and exciting, albeit perhaps a little silly, musical experience. The wishy washy approach the Americans took undermined the story, the music and all the emotion that was required for making this piece of art work.

Because the music at it’s core is so damned good, the English versions of the songs are still thoroughly enjoyable. “For Sarah” is a song that needs, and in fact demands, the highest calibre of singing performance. For this reason, I believe the English version holds up very well, but I must say it is worthwhile to investigate the multiple German language version you can find online. I used to listen to one version on youtube a lot, but as these things go I can no longer find it, so here is a slightly not as great version:

Live German Version:

I feel for Steinman. He is likely to go down as one of the most overlooked song writers of his generation, and what might have been his magnum opus after the original “Bat Out of Hell,” this epic vampire musical, will likely be forgotten mostly by the English speaking music listening audience. This is the sort of review I think is highly important, I suspect a lot more people should be enjoying this over the top vampire rock opera than there are currently; and I am just doing my small part to help that along.

- King of Braves

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