Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: ‘The Original Dracula’ casts an aura in Manitowoc

Critic At Large

Manitowoc Symphony Orchestra

Program cover.

MANITOWOC, Wis. (WFRV) – The saga of Dracula has been putting a scare into folks for a long, long while. A movie featuring him caught an audience unawares Saturday night en masse, and the crowd seemed spooked.

People came to Capitol Civic Centre for the experience of hearing an orchestra play full-bodied music while watching “Nostferatu, A Symphony of Horror” from 1922 on a large screen.

The Manitowoc Symphony Orchestra was playing its first live, in-person concert since COVID-19 crept onto the premises in March 2020.

The evening was billed as “The Original Dracula.”

It was a lively night. The orchestra invited participation by way of a costume contest for audience members. Halloween dress-up came early for many folks.

Orchestra members got into the act, too. There were a number of Dracula-type capes among the players – and witch wear and bright blue long hair and a devil with horns and sinister-smiley make-up like the Joker.

I’d give a prize for cleverness to music director Dylan Chmura-Moore. He appeared in a neat-as-a-pin train conductor’s outfit, complete with the dark blue hat with a crisp presence. The conductor conducted – get it?

The movie has all sorts of stories behind it. One is that an orchestra played at its premiere, and that score chiefly no longer exists. What exists now is a re-creation that has been put together over time. The experience offers full, lush sounds that range from the idyllic for the sweet couple introduced at the start to the ominous aura of lurking by blood-sucking Count Orlok, who looks like an advertisement for “Go to the dentist.”

The style of storytelling and filming is going on 100 years old, so it’s interesting seeing what was in vogue then. The movie is a wonderful time capsule.

What caught the audience was when how the fun-curiosity viewing came along with a historical bite. Count Orlok has traveled by ship to new turf – bringing his turf in his casket, which he manages to carry in his arms like it’s the weight of a briefcase. Rats are aboard. Rats carry plague. Between the plague and Count Orlok’s drinking pleasures, the crew dwindles down to none, but the vessel reaches its intended destination. Officials at the dock discover the infestation of plague and sound the alarm: “Return to your homes! Bolt all your windows and doors!” Soon a uniformed man walks the streets shouting a government decree about staying at home.

In the hall, a pall of silence enveloped the audience. The movie strikes on parallels between the plague of the 19th century when the story takes place and the coronavirus of today. The silence was especially keen when this caption appeared on screen: “Fear lurked every corner of the town. Who was healthy? Who was dead?”

Maybe the choice of “Nostferatu, A Symphony of Horror” inadvertently tapped into today. Maybe not. But it sure was spooky in a different way for the crowd. At least that was my sense of it.

In 1922, an orchestra playing for silent film screening would have been special because of the cost. It still is special. The Manitowoc Symphony organization also – smartly – made a festive night of bringing its audience back for a concert.

The performance flowed smoothly. Dylan Chmura-Moore guided the players through all the fine points of tension, of travel, of picturesque backdrops, of brightening morning, of sinister dread. The images were in black-and-white (more sepia in this case), and the expansive sounds of thirty-something musicians filling in the colors.

The experience was beyond CinemaScope and Surround Sound.

***

From the film

Original score by Hans Erdmann, reconstructed by Berndt Heller with multiple additional sources.

Direction by F.W. Murnau, screenplay by Henrik Galeen and art direction (Count Orlok’s face and hand make-up is fantastic) by Albin Grau.

Featured in the cast: Max Schreck as Count Orlok, Gustav von Wangenheim as naïve real estate agent Thomas Hutter, Greta Schroder as his super-sensitive wife and Alexander Granach as Hutter’s boss, who has bad hair/bad eyebrow days and a taste for flies.

***

Roster of musicians for Oct. 9, 2021

+ Conductor: Dylan Chmura-Moore

+ Violin I: Carrie Kulas, concertmaster chair; Jim VanLanen Jr., Lori Bonin, Jaci Collins, Luis Fernandez, Justyna Lutow-Resch, Debbie Williamson, Heidi Barker

+ Violin II: Joan Geraldson, principal; Ryan Kraemer, Dan Ognavic, Joyce Malloy, Lizbeth Getman, David Oldenburg

+ Viola: Jane Bradshaw Finch, principal; TJ Hull, Ann Stephan, Sarah Oftdahl, Amy Beekhuizen

+ Cello: Charles Stephan, principal; Rory Beatty, Michael Dewhirst, Wendy Scattergood, Steve Westergan

+ Double bass: Brian Kulas, principal; Shelby Baize, Lee Klemens

+ Flute: Angela Erdmann, principal

+ Oboe: Suzanne Geoffrey, principal

+ Clarinet: Laura McLaughlin, principal; Diana Jonen

+ Bass clarinet: Diana Jonen

+ Trumpet: John Daniel, principal

+ Trombone: Jonathan Winkle, principal

+  Percussion: John Aaholm, principal; Vicky Daniel

+ Keyboard: Stanislava Varshavski

***

NEXT: “We All Sing in the Season” featuring singer Daniel LeClaire, Nov. 20.

Capitol Civic Centre, 10.9.2021. (Warren Gerds)

THE VENUE: Renovation and upgrade projects of 2019 include new seating (with drink holders in the arms), technical upgrades and added public spaces. Located at 913 S. 8th St. in downtown Manitowoc, the 1,003-seat West Auditorium of Capitol Civic Centre features classically oriented styles befitting its 1921 origins as a combined vaudeville and movie palace. New lighting brightens the auditorium considerably. Two large, tiered, tear-drop clear crystal chandeliers grace shoulders on each side of the proscenium stage. All around is ornamentation – Corinthian capitals on faux columns, leaf-and-scroll braces beneath balcony and step-stage box seat areas, gold and red paint highlighting swirls and/or patterned geometric designs amid the cream-colored wall features. The ceiling is coffered. The fringe around the stage is ornate, with the stage curtain regal red with the Capitol Civic Center’s signature overlaid C’s standing out in the middle of the top hanging, which includes six tassels. Distinctive in the theater is the mezzanine, which is tucked far under the balcony and above the rear seats of the main floor. Also distinctive: Upper level signs say “OUT” instead of “EXIT.” The lobbies (the second level new in 2019) and meeting areas complement the rest of the theater in design. One area includes photo displays of stars and prominent personalities, including Charlton Heston and his wife, Two Rivers native, Lydia Clark Heston. The “Jewel on the Lakeshore” is home to 14 community arts, music and theater groups. Designed by local architect William J. Raueber and built by the local George Brothers, Arthur and John, the theater opened June 16, 1921, at Ascher Brothers’ Capitol Theatre under a lease agreement with the Chicago-based Ascher movie and vaudeville house operators. The current name dates to 1987, following restoration with the lead grant coming from the Ruth St. John and John Dunham West Foundation, Inc.

THE PEOPLE: John West was president of the Manitowoc Shipbuilding Co. The foundation that bears the Ruth and John West name supports and fosters the arts, with the Rahr-West Art Museum another significant site in Manitowoc.

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