German version of Polanski tuner a hit

BERLIN — Roman Polanski’s “Dance of the Vampires” is doing what the tuner’s Broadway incarnation failed to do four years ago: It’s pulling in sizeable auds here.

“Tanz der Vampire” has racked up more than 4 million ticket sales in Europe since it first preemed on the Vienna stage in 1997 and enjoyed successive two-year runs in Stuttgart and Hamburg. And the Berlin production has been posting record attendance since it opened Dec. 10 at the 1,600-seat Theater des Westens.

But the musical adaptation of Polanski’s 1967 cult vampire comedy was Broadway’s biggest financial loser to date, closing after 56 performances and hemorrhaging an estimated $13 million-$15 million.

Is the discrepancy due to a different mindset between Teutonic auds and Americans? Not bloody likely, according to the folks behind it.

“The show in Berlin cannot be compared to the New York show,” says Andreas Kuenne, spokesman for German promoter Stage Entertainment. “New York had nothing to do with Polanski; he didn’t direct it because he is still unable to visit the U.S. It has nothing to do with what we’re doing here.”

The tuner’s German author-librettist, Michael Kunze, who has translated musicals such as “Aida,” “The Phantom of the Opera” and “Evita” for the German market, as well as composing local hits “Mozart” and “Elizabeth” (about the Austrian empress), is eager to elaborate on the Broadway bloodbath.

“They changed the whole concept of the show,” explains Kunze, whose book was rewritten by David Ives for the Gotham production. “I would have understood if they had changed some things they thought were not good for the States, but they should have kept the show’s basic structure.”

Kunze says the U.S. version shifted focus away from Alfred, the bumbling young hero portrayed by Polanski in the film, and instead turned ingenue Sara into the protagonist. Much of the comedy — and some songs — reserved for geriatric vampire hunter Professor Abronsius were taken over by lead bloodsucker Count Krolock, played by Michael Crawford.

“They turned him into a horny old man,” says Kunze. ” ‘The Producers’ was the biggest thing on Broadway then, and they thought if they could turn the vampire spoof into a ‘Producers’-like production, it could succeed. It had to fail because it couldn’t work that way.”

The Berlin tuner maintains the original book and staging.

The eerie comedy is closer in feeling to the film, which suffered a similar fate as it crossed the Atlantic. Though a big hit in Germany, the film was retitled “The Fearless Vampire Killers” for its U.S. release by MGM and was severely cut. The new version, disowned by Polanski, fizzled at the American box office.

The Berlin tuner is billed as a grusical, a mash-up of a traditional “musical” and the Teutonic gruslig, meaning eerie or spine-tingling: In effect, it’s a horror musical in the vein of “Sweeney Todd” with a touch of “The Rocky Horror Show.”

Although Kuenne would not release box office figures, which are near impossible to ascertain for privately owned theaters in Germany, he expects a long run in Berlin.

“The show is one of our best sellers,” says a local ticket agent. “It’s doing at least as well as Blue Man Group, but a lot of people like it better because it’s such a big spectacle.”

Polanski came to Berlin — where he shot “The Pianist” — in early October to begin rehearsing.

The director responded to the show’s opening night standing ovation by saying, “We should have come to Berlin sooner.”

Contrary to the bloodcurdling New York press, Berlin critics praised the show, which has an all-German cast, for its “striking, strong-voiced appearance” (Tagespiegel) and “fabulous ensemble work” (Berliner Zeitung), calling it “a spectacle for eyes and ears” (Berliner Morgenpost).

The reviews gave scribe Kunze some vindication. “I can laugh about it because it didn’t kill the show,” he says. “It only killed the Broadway production, and they paid very, very dearly for it.”

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