‘Vampire Burt’s Serenade’ But for a Nail…. or Maybe a Stake…

By Ernest Kearney — Writer/Director Ken Roht’s hellzapoppin’ vamping musical Vampire Burt’s Serenade has a good deal going for it. Burt, a manic Nosferatu, is ably portrayed by Kevin Scott Richardson; one of the founding members of the Backstreet Boys. Richardson is supported by a fine ensemble including Diva Zappa. The original music by Paul Goldowitz is slick and professional, the choreography by Roht and Denna Thomsen is sharp and on point, the special visual effects by Erik Tilmans are original and effective. Overall, the entire production is of a meritorious caliber.

If only there had been a script involved, I think Roht would have had something rather special here, instead of a diluted, flavorless mixture of Benny Hill meets Interview with the Vampire; only lacking the silliness of the one and the sensuality of the other.

Filmed in large part at the Bootleg Theatre on Beverly Boulevard in Los Angeles, the tale revolves around Burt (Richardson), an out of control blood sucker who just can’t seem to keep his teeth out of people’s necks.

He bites his friend Todd (Brandon Heitkamp) who did not want to join the ranks of the undead, not because of drawbacks like no reflection and having to sleep in a coffin but, because he is under the impression —perhaps from reading too many Anne Rice novels— that all vampires are bisexual.

Todd’s girlfriend Connie (Zappa) is annoyed at Burt turning her boyfriend into a “creature of the night,” until he turns her into one. She’s enjoying treating every neck she comes across like a 7-11 Strawberry Kiwi Big Gulp with jugular veins until, she’s done in by a stake-wielding vampire slayer and left laying on the street with a wooden tent peg firmly implanted in her heart while Todd and Burt go to score some drugs from a homicidal fashion photographer (Sharon Ferguson) who likes to shoot her models with a .45 before shooting them with her Nikon.

Meanwhile Dori (Laura Martin), whose boyfriend Sid (Brian Gaskill) was sucked dry by Burt, has organized a stripper benefit to raise $10,000 to pay a Vampire Killer (Kenneth Hughes) to do in Burt.
Oh! And thanks to a pair of zombies (Clay Wilcox and Max Faugno) Connie has gone from being a deceased vampire to a deceased walking dead.

I could go on, but I won’t.

Rocky Horror Picture Show and Little Shop of Horrors cover the same blood soaked ground, but they pull it off because they both have a strong narrative spine. They have a story to tell and know whose story is being told. Vampire Burt’s Serenade has neglected this rather essential aspect.

In fact, there is a five-way clusterf**k as far as whose story it may or may not be.

Without a cohesive narrative the songs are just songs lacking relevance to the action on screen; and that action, devoid of conflict challenging the characters, robs the viewer of any dramatic tension, resulting in a film that has much to earn an audience’s appreciation, yet nothing to win their interest.

Director of Photography Strati Hovatos has done an excellent job of delivering some tasty eye candy but, again, without engaging characters or an intriguing plot it feels like being stuck watching slides from your Uncle Roy’s vacation to Hoover Dam.

That being said, there are some very nice tunes, my favorite being a little ditty concerning the delights of having hot sex in a skuzzy toilet. Though at 30 songs, Goldowitz and Roht are pushing it. Rocky Horror settles for 16 tunes and Little Shop of Horrors stops at 20 toe-tappers.

There are some fine performers here – Martin, Hughes, Heitkamp as mentioned, but also Lori Scarlett, Tracey Leigh and Lucy Griffin.

Richardson is stunningly good when singing, and staggeringly maladroit when not, but this is the fault of Roht for not seeing to it that he had a character to portray.

As it stands Burt is all excess, and excess is a trait, not a role.

Unfortunately despite all the talent and work that went into this effort, Vampire Burt’s Serenade remains painfully anemic.


NOTE: Featured in Key Image: Kevin Scott Richardson, Lake Sharp. Photo by Kristin Richardson


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An award-winning L.A. playwright and rabble-rouser of note who has hoisted glasses with Orson Welles, been arrested on three continents and once beat up Charlie Manson. His first play, "Among the Vipers" was a semi-finalist in the Julie Harris Playwriting Competition and was featured in the Carnegie-Mellon Showcase of New Plays. It was produced at the NPT Theater in Ashland, Oregon and Los Angeles’ celebrated Odyssey Ensemble Theatre. His following play, “The Little Boy Who Loved Monsters” was produced at The Hollywood Actors Theater, where he earned praise from the Los Angeles Times for his “…inordinately creative writing.” The play went on to numerous other productions including Berlin’s The Black Theatre under the direction of Rainer Fassbinder who wrote in his program notes of Kearney, “He is a skilled playwright, but more importantly he is a dangerous one.” Ernest Kearney has worked as literary manager or as dramaturge for among others The Hudson Theater Guild, Nova Diem and the Odyssey Ensemble Theatre, where he still serves on the play selection committee. He has been the recipient of two Dramalogue Awards and a finalist or semi-finalist, three times, in the Julie Harris Playwriting Competition. His work has been performed by Michael Dunn, Sandra Tsing Loh, Jack Colvin and Billy Bob Thornton, and to date, either as playwright or director, he has upwards of a hundred and thirty productions under his belt, including a few at the Bob Baker Marionette Theater as puppeteer. Kearney remains focused on his writing, as well as living happily ever after with his lovely wife Marlene. His stage reviews and social essays can be found at TheTVolution.com and workingauthor.com. Follow him on Facebook.

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