Scorpius Dance Theatre's A Vampire Tale Keeps the Cult in "Cult Classic"

A Vampire Tale kicks off its 11th Season.
A Vampire Tale kicks off its 11th Season.
Scorpius Dance Theatre

This is the story of the time I brought my boyfriend to a dance play about vampires during post-season baseball. More specifically, this is a story about the time I peeled the aforementioned man off the couch and dragged him to Scorpius Dance Theatre's A Vampire Tale during longest playoff game in the history of the world, or something.

See also:5 Must-See Dance Performances in Metro Phoenix This Fall

Needless to say, the BF was not thrilled about the prospect of a Vampire. Dance. Play. And I won't lie to you: I wasn't sold on the idea either. I found myself bargaining; halfway trying to convince myself it would be great, and halfway trying to sell him on it. "It's a cult classic," I said, "It's 'the Nutcracker of Halloween.' It will be fun!" My eyelash-batting prevailed over the baseball-batting. My possession of the boobs might have helped as well.

There's this thing about cult classics, this little thing that makes them "cult classics" rather than just "classics." This thing is that generally speaking, they're not actually all that good, but there's something about them that makes you love them anyway. Take, for example, Rocky Horror Picture Show. Nobody watches it because it's a good movie. It's a fun movie. It's a weird movie. But when it comes to the nitty-gritty of plot and acting and character development, it actually kind of sucks. But that doesn't stop people (read as: stoners, misfits, and angsty teenagers) from coming back to it year after year, because it's fun and escapist and a great accompaniment to alcohol.

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The same could easily be said of A Vampire Tale. After seeing it, it's easy to understand how director and choreographer Lisa Starry has maintained the show's momentum for so many years. The plot is about as hazy as the smoke machine and strobe light combo that pulses throughout the show. The dancing is great, but the characterization in most of the ensemble is only so-so. In many ways the whole thing is a little bit overdone; but all that said, I absolutely loved it. And so did grumpy ol' Mr. Baseballpants, which should probably be viewed as a stellar endorsement.

As a general rule, I am an introvert. I despise things like "audience participation" and "loud noises" and "being around most other human beings." I also was pretty sure we got over the whole vampire thing circa 2010, but apparently our cultural obsession with the undead just won't, you know, die. A warning to my fellow introverts: This show will be smoky and loud and you will be asked to participate. Just do it. It won't suck that much.

The pre-show consisted of a bit of clowning, crowd-pestering, and candy-tossing by special guest artist Damon Dering. Dering's character functioned as both comic relief and narrator, and can best be described as a cross between The Joker and Lennie from Of Mice and Men. The so-called "Strange Man" also acted as the ringleader of a vampire circus. At first I wasn't sure how to feel about him, but after intermission (read as: after introducing a lil' booze into the ol' bloodstream), the Strange Man's clowning and silly antics actually started to grow on me.

The show opens to a circus of vampires; first the women, corset-clad and gyrating against the ground, a series of coffins, the floor, each other. I was not impressed by this introduction. The female ensemble's expressions and characterization were a little more slutty cheerleader than creepy blood-sucking undead creature, though I guess the difference between those two character archetypes is fairly negligible.


The "Vampire Tale" ensemble.
The "Vampire Tale" ensemble.
Rose Torres

Enter the men. The difference between the introduction of the men versus that of the women was the one great offense that I took to the choreography. The fellas' entry was undoubtedly athletic, and was aptly described by the BF as "like an S&M version of Thriller." It was graceful and deliberate and showcased a level of gymnastic and acrobatic skill that I would have really liked to have seen, right off the bat, from the women. The ladies' choreography was more Bandaids than Broadway; the mens' was far more playful and nuanced.

The plot from this point on is fairly straightforward: an innocent human girl (Eve, played by Ashley Zarr) gets thrust (by the ringmaster) into a world of dancing vampires. The Vampire King falls in love with her which is a problem because there's a queen in the picture, a bunch of dancing happens, and then, Spoiler Alert, Eve gets turned into a vampire. That is it. Don't expect more from the plot than just exactly that. But despite the shortcomings in the story, the show was really quite fun to watch.

The leads -- King Viktor, the Unnamed Queen, and Ingenue Eve -- commanded the audience's attention, and truly stole the show. This year is the first time that the role of the King has not been played solely by director Lisa Starry's husband David (who played the role in some performances last year, sharing the role with Billie-Joe Bouey). Starry's replacement, Gavin Sisson, was absolutely fantastic. He also looked like a Vampire version of Moby, so I'll be referring to him as such from now on. Vampire Moby showcased a little glimmer of humanity among the undead; he also managed to convey a sense of character development that was clearly not supported by a whole lot of Plot.

The Queen, played by Nicole Olson, must also be recognized for her talent. She was true to her character throughout the show, and found a way to evoke reserved, regal emotions through precisely controlled postures and movements. She came across as commanding, unwavering, and exceptionally elegant.

A Vampire Tale is organized into a number of movements, each with its own style of physicality. There was a bit of physical theatre thrown in right before the intermission, a comical "Last Supper" tableau with the virginal Eve at the center. The human hungrily devours a piece of bread, while her bloodthirsty companions perform a nearly slapstick routine with dinner rolls, which ends with them shoving them into each others' mouths and spitting them out on the floor. At one point during this bit I thought "If I wanted to watch this many dancers spit up their food I'd go back to the bathroom at my high school," but then I felt bad because, you know, feminism. They kept doing this bit over and over, and eventually it got really funny again.

My favorite movements in the show were those performed on aerial silks. These were at times slightly out of sync, but always impressive. Less enchanting was the ensemble's Tango. The couples performing this provocative dance had about as much chemistry as you would expect from a bunch of women who were trying to come across as overtly sexy and a bunch of men who seemed to have very little interest in sexy women.

The music consisted largely of original compositions by Kristofer Hill. It was a little much but it worked. There was one point during the second act where I found myself getting a little judge-y about the lyrical content -- "'I still recall the taste of your tears?'' Grey would be the color if I had a heart?' Seriously? What is this wannabe Trent Reznor bullshit?" That bullshit was apparently actual Nine Inch Nails music. That some people pay real money to listen to, for entertainment. So. That's a travesty that you will just have to come to terms with when you see the show.

What was more impressive than the musical arrangements was Starry's use of silence; aside from the Strange Man, no one truly vocalized, aside from a series of screams, laughs, and cat-like hissing. But at tender moments between Eve and Vampire Moby, or at times of tension between Vampire Moby and the Queen, the loud, thumping music fell away to an a equally percussive silence. This was an incredibly powerful, resonant stylistic choice.

The Boyfriend left the show talking about the characters in a way that I have only ever heard him speak about injured players. "Poor Vampire Moby. I feel terrible for him," he said, as he plopped back down on the couch and turned on ESPN. Poor Vampire Moby, indeed.

In short: A Vampire Tale is charming and accessible, and while I wouldn't say it's life changing in any great artistic sense, I'd say it's a whole helluva lot of fun. Here's to 11 more years of good, bloody, weird fun.

Performances of A Vampire Tale continue through October 10 at Phoenix Theatre. Tickets are $25 to $45 and available through

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100 E. McDowell Rd.
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