Dracula, perhaps the most well-known vampire of all time, has been around since the late 1890s when Bram Stoker put pen to paper. The story, set in Victorian England, explored topics of gender, sexuality, and race, through the lens of a time long past. Well, Gordon Greenberg and Steve Rosen are looking at them through a different lens this time, in their sexy and hilarious play, Dracula: A Comedy of Terrors!
The 90-minute play is currently running at the New World Stages for a few more weeks (final performance is January 7). I recently sat down with one of the stars, Andrew Keenan-Bolger to chat about it. In the interview, Keenan-Bolger reveals some of the challenges, and even more of the fun, that Dracula: A Comedy of Terrors has provided him since he was cast as Jonathan Harker. The star also shares some highlights of his long career on the stage and looks forward to what 2024 will be bringing!
The interview with Andrew Keenan-Bolger of Dracula: A Comedy of Terrors
[Please note: The interview has been lightly edited for clarity. You can listen to the full interview below, find it most places podcasts are available, or read on. Lastly, please consider showing your support for this podcast and website at buymeacoffee.com/cosmiccircus.]
Brian Kitson: Hey there, Andrew. Thank you so much for joining us today. First off, I was able to come and see the show. I flew in from Michigan this weekend, and I was able to go to the Saturday show, Dracula: A Comedy of Terrors, and it was amazing. And I really appreciate the opportunity to come and see it.
I just want to start off by asking you if you could just tell me how you kind of got the gig or how you started the process or what kind of drew you to Dracula?
Andrew Keenan-Bolger: Sure thing. Well, first of all, thank you for coming and checking us out. Yeah, so I got involved with this project earlier this year. I had been a big fan of Steve Rosen and Gordon Greenberg who are the director, co-writers of Dracula: A Comedy of Terrors, and I actually got asked to audition for a different show that they were doing in California and wasn’t able to make that one work with my schedule.
But when this came up, they were like, “This part actually was envisioned differently, but we’d love to see what your take on it might be.” And so they asked me to come and audition, and yeah, ended up booking it. It was a real blessing to come at that time of year, and have been doing it ever since.
On how his role as Jonathan Harker changed once he took over the role
Brian Kitson: That’s so awesome. Do you know how it was kind of envisioned beforehand, and how it’s changed when you took over the role?
Andrew Keenan-Bolger: Yeah, I think just physically, I think the character was very different. They’ve done a couple productions of it prior to it opening in New York, and I think the character was very tall and lanky. And I think once I got cast, they really played up the sort of size differential from me and James, who plays Dracula. He is fully a foot taller than me. And so just in a lot of the staging of it, it became a bit of a kind of sight gag that we would get to play off of.
Also, the story evolved to be a bit more queer, which was something that they had been wanting to do, just because the story of Dracula, that is sort of inherent in it. Also, Bram Stoker, the author, while he probably did not have the language for it back then, probably would’ve identified as queer.
He had some letter-writing courtships that were sort of discovered after the fact, and there’s a lot of just sort of queer references throughout the book that they wanted to play with. And casting me as an openly gay actor. They’re like, this might be a fun opportunity to get to play around with that within the story of Dracula and make it be really a true kind of love triangle between Dracula myself and my fiancé, Lucy.
Brian Kitson: Absolutely. I’ve read a long time ago, but there’s a lot of those queer undertones to the story, and so to see those kind of played up on stage was really awesome.
Andrew Keenan-Bolger: Yeah.
On playing multiple characters in Dracula: A Comedy of Terrors
Brian Kitson: So can you just kind of give us a rundown of the characters or characters you play? Because you do play quite a few different ones. There’s a lot of costume changes and stuff on this stage, which was super cool to see. And obviously the first one kind of being Harker.
Andrew Keenan-Bolger: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I think I play eight different characters throughout the show. Yeah, my main one is Jonathan Harker who, anyone who’s familiar with the Dracula lore, is the person who first comes and meets Dracula and brings him to England.
And yeah, I’m in a love triangle between my fiancé, Lucy, and Count Dracula. And then I also play two suitors, the bosun of a ship, a gravedigger. Yeah, it’s kind of a mile a minute performance. All five of the cast members, other than Dracula, we all play multiple characters, so we’re running offstage, throwing on a hat, coming on as someone different. It is an exhausting, but ultimately, I think, really satisfying evening of theater that we get to do every night.
Brian Kitson: It is, you said, fast-paced. And even for the audience, 90 minutes had flew by and the costume changes and the character switches were some of the most exciting parts. I mean, the whole thing was exciting, but when you came out as the two suitors, that audience roared with laughter and I think that from that moment on they were 100% sold.
Andrew Keenan-Bolger: Yeah. It’s hard to phone in a performance when you have an audience as engaged as the ones we’ve had on Dracula; so it’s been just really a nice treat as a performer, getting to be in a show that, I think, is so funny and is so well-crafted and that audiences seem to be loving.
Andrew Keenan-Bolger on his role in Newsies
Brian Kitson: Absolutely. And you have done a lot of different characters across Broadway. When my friend found out I was interviewing you, I think he about died because he’s loved you in Newsies and Tuck Everlasting, which is one of my favorite novels. And so you played all these different incredible characters. Have you had a favorite that you’ve played? Is it Harker? Or is there someone else that you really are drawn to?
Andrew Keenan-Bolger: Oh, man. I think I really loved just the experience of being in Newsies, and it was something that I got to be involved in from the very beginning, from the very first reading of it. And at the time, the character of Crutchie, it was a pretty small part, and it really was not fleshed out beyond sort of the character in the movie.
And I think I was lucky enough that I had a good relationship with the folks at Disney Theatricals. Currently, at the time, I was in another one of their shows, in Mary Poppins, and I feel like definitely became a big advocate for that character and would try and ask questions throughout the process.
And over the course of a bunch of readings, I found that my part got bigger and bigger; and that a lot of the attributes that I wanted to bring to him early on kind of ended up getting written into the show.
So it was just a really satisfying, by the time that we landed on Broadway. I felt like I took a lot of pride in getting to play him every night and knowing that, while I didn’t certainly write anything, that knowing that the writers had me in mind the whole time, and were sort of crafting it around my strengths. And the ideas that I was bringing to the table, it was just incredibly satisfying and something that I look on with admiration always.
Brian Kitson: It sounds like it was a really collaborative approach in developing that character.
Andrew Keenan-Bolger: Yeah, it was so nice. Anytime that you get to be involved early on in the project, I always think as an actor that is such a gift because you end up bringing a lot of yourself to it. And every night when you step on stage, I think it makes the work a lot less hard to sort of transform yourself if you have been able to show up in the development. So that by the time you’re walking onto the stage, you can really ultimately be a version of yourself.
On prep for playing multiple characters in Dracula: A Comedy of Terrors
Brian Kitson: For sure. Absolutely. So, then, how does maybe prepping for some of these other characters that you played compare to prepping for this one in Dracula?
Andrew Keenan-Bolger: Totally. This is very different. A lot of it is knowing that I was playing multiple characters. I was figuring out how I can really differentiate all of these people so it’s not confusing to the audience.
A lot of it was honestly vocal work. It was looking at what kind of accents each of these characters would have. They’re all from a different region, which, I think, was a good starting point. And figuring out how they spoke was a good way of differentiating them and then figuring out their kind of physicality, if this one holds himself up very prim and proper, if this one is sort of hunched over. Figuring out that kind of vocabulary, it’s unlike anything I’ve ever done, and definitely I think my Bachelor’s of Fine Arts education really came into play in ways that I was really thankful for. Also, I went to Michigan, so fellow Michigander here.
Brian Kitson: I found that out as I was doing some research, and I was just like, “That is super cool to see someone from the Mitten State make it in doing a successful show that’s…” I mean, the show’s on TikTok all the time and Instagram, and I’ve seen it everywhere and everybody seems to love it, so that’s really cool.
Andrew Keenan-Bolger: Yeah. Yeah. I have tremendous pride for my home state and for my home city of Detroit, so any chance I can do my state and my hometown proud, I’m always happy.
Brian Kitson: That’s fantastic.
On juggling different accents within one show
Brian Kitson: You mentioned about the accents, and I’ve known about you for a long time, I follow you on Instagram and stuff like that. And when you came out on stage, and you had a very British accent, and I was like, “Did I miss something here?” And you did excellent work with every character, did have a very distinct personality and accent. And I think that I was amazed at how I’ve seen some other shows and the accents don’t come as easy, and you did a fantastic job switching between them. So that was really cool.
Andrew Keenan-Bolger: Oh, well, thank you so much. I honestly, accents have never been my strength. It’s a class I took in college that I did not excel in. And I think for the show, just because it was being put up pretty quickly, I think I had two hours with our dialects person, but it was a lot of practice and trying to listen back to myself and be like, “That doesn’t sound right.”
Yeah, so thank you. That actually means a lot to me because oftentimes, especially when I’m playing the three suitors, I’m bouncing between three different accents basically line to line, and I admit I have a couple of times said the wrong suitor with the wrong accent, and you’re like, “Oh, well, whoops.” That’ll happen sometimes.
Brian Kitson: It happens.
Andrew Keenan-Bolger: Hopefully no one noticed.
Brian Kitson: Well, if you did it at ours, nobody noticed at all. They were all loving it way too much, so. But I’m sure that has to be very challenging, having to switch between accents. I’ve heard that that’s hard, especially in people who are doing shows or, I mean, television shows, they have to stop and reset and stuff, and you just were switching between them within seconds.
Andrew Keenan-Bolger: Yeah, no stopping on Off-Broadway. If we mess up, we just keep going.
Challenges and gratifying experiences from the show
Brian Kitson: So for you, what has maybe been the most, a challenge with the show or something that has been gratifying about this experience for you?
Andrew Keenan-Bolger: Sure. I mean, honestly, I think the most challenging thing is I think energy and the routine of doing a long run. We started rehearsals for this back in August, and we’re closing in January, so it’s been a fairly long run, and we’re having to do the same show eight times a week.
And it’s a physically demanding show. I sort of thought getting to do a play rather than a musical, I was really looking forward to it, just thinking that that is going to be easier on my body. But my energy reserves, I really do have to protect them to make sure that I can get through the show every night. And so that’s definitely been a challenge.
It’s also, I think, especially as we are nearing the end of our run, something that I’ve been proud of. No one in our cast has missed a show yet. We’ve all shown up and given it our all every single day and still, I think, managed to keep the show fresh and feeling funny. And allowing ourselves to try out some new things throughout the run, and making sure that it crackles in the same way that it did when we first opened.
Changes in Dracula: A Comedy of Terrors over the course of the run
Brian Kitson: Sure. Has it changed since you first opened? Has there been changes over time?
Andrew Keenan-Bolger: It’s funny. I always have a hard time sort of gauging how different things are because things are so incremental in how you’re saying a line; or maybe how you’re responding to something where it does not feel super different, but I am sure.
Oftentimes I will see because our stuff goes viral on TikTok all the time, and they’ll show an old clip from the show, and I’m like, “Oh God. Yeah, I guess I did say that line very differently from how I say it now.” But I think while you’re in it, it’s just trying to respond in a natural way, which ultimately, it shifts just a tiny bit every single night.
Brian Kitson: Sure. Absolutely.
On playing two versions of Jonathan Harker in the show
Brian Kitson: With the show, you get to play two versions of Jonathan. You get to play the nervous, anxious one, and then also the less reserved one towards the end. Do you have a favorite one that you like to play a little bit more than the other?
Andrew Keenan-Bolger: Yeah. I like playing sexy Harker. It’s fun, especially as someone who is, I’m a short guy, I’m 5’4″. Those are not any kind of personality traits that anyone has ever asked me to bring to a project, being hypermasculine, kind of like douchey, sexy, himbo guy. So I just have a lot of fun sort of sending up those kind of attributes.
When I was trying to figure out how I should play him, I actually watched… Because it’s hard to watch, it’s like, “Let me think of the people who are hyper, hypermasculine.” And I was having trouble finding references that totally made sense for that.
I ended up finding, I think, my biggest inspiration from watching drag kings, who are women dressing up as men. And I found that they really perform gender in a way that is really interesting, that can sometimes be funny, sometimes be a critique and sometimes just be a realistic impersonation. And I found that they were doing just really funny, exaggerated, fun things that I may have borrowed a little bit from some awesome drag kings on YouTube, just watching stuff.
And then also, I watched a lot of videos of exotic male dancers from Las Vegas shows and picked up some of their moves and just some of their mannerisms. Things that I don’t think any real men actually act like, but it is sort of filtered through the media lens of like, “This is what male, masculinity performance looks like.” And I try to implement that every night and while also absolutely poking fun at the ridiculousness of it.
Brian Kitson: That was one of the awesome parts of the show, is that you had a lot of this commentary through the lens of the 1800s. And one of them was using drag and stuff like that and using this exaggerated performance of sexy Harker, as you called him. And it was great. It was fantastic. It was exactly, I think, the callbacks that we needed to be like, “Yeah, sometimes things are not always so great.”
Andrew Keenan-Bolger: It has been really fun. We play with gender a ton. A lot of actors are at times playing gender representations that are different than their own. And especially with the kind of stilted Victorian language and just expectations of both men and women at that time. When delivered through a woman playing a man, playing a woman, playing a man, I think the commentary resonates in an even more interesting way that can really poke fun at some of the ridiculous social norms at the time. Some of which still exist today.
On relatives of Bram Stoker attending Dracula: A Comedy of Terrors
Brian Kitson: Absolutely. And also, for your 100th show, you actually had some relatives of Bram Stoker in attendance. What was that like for you?
Andrew Keenan-Bolger: Yeah, that was wild. So Dacre Stoker, who is, I believe, Bram Stoker’s great-grandnephew, came and checked us out. And he has gone on to be both a scholar of his great-grandfather once removed… I can’t figure out that genealogy, but has also written, I think, a couple books. One that is a prequel to Dracula, that have been super well-regarded in the literary world.
So it was fascinating to meet him. And he was so effusive in his praise, in that his family just really loves seeing how creative people have gotten with this story; and that comedy is absolutely a really fun venue; and that his family would’ve just loved every moment of this, which was pretty cool.
Keenan-Bolger on his plans and new projects in 2024
Brian Kitson: I know we’re getting close to time, but I was just wondering, with the show closing up soon, what’s next on your docket? What’s 2024 look like for you?
Andrew Keenan-Bolger: Yeah. I’m lucky enough, I’m going to start another play Off-Broadway. I don’t think it’s been announced yet, so I can’t say anything. But yeah, I’m doing a play. I think I’m directing my first feature film at the end of 2024, which I’m really excited about. And actually, I have a book coming out that I recently sold, so-
Brian Kitson: Congratulations.
Andrew Keenan-Bolger: … all of them forthcoming. But if you follow me on Instagram, I will be quite shameless in letting the world know about all these many things that I’m really looking forward to in the new year.
Brian Kitson: Of course, as you should. You have a lot to look forward to, and we are all looking forward to seeing where it goes. And as well, I hope that the last couple of weeks in your show, Dracula: A Comedy of Terrors, is as exciting as the time I got to enjoy it, so.
Andrew Keenan-Bolger: Oh, thank you so much.
Brian Kitson: Thank you so much for your time, and I appreciate talking to you.
Andrew Keenan-Bolger: Of course. It was my pleasure, Brian. And thank you for coming and checking us out.
Don’t miss Andrew Keenan-Bolger in Dracula: A Comedy of Terrors!
Dracula: A Comedy of Terrors, starring Andrew Keenan-Bolger is playing at the New World Stages until January 7. So get your tickets while you can! Let us know on social media @mycosmiccircus or in The Cosmic Circus Discord if you’ve seen this show or if you plan on checking it out soon!