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A NEW TWIST ON 'DRACULA'

Mention "Dracula" and most people's thoughts turn immediately to horror stories, blood and gore. After all, legend has it that the Transylvanian count is nothing more than a bloodsucking, shape-shifting vampire repelled with garlic. However, this week the Lancaster Opera House will be presenting a slightly different take on the story, one that is more of a "dark romance."

"Dracula: the Gothic Musical," which runs through Sunday, is "creepy and erotic" and enough to get anyone in the spirit of Halloween. Composed and produced by Paul Ziemba, a Cheektowaga resident, it is a song-style play, a less common kind of opera that has more individual numbers rather than continuous music. The musical is based on Bram Stoker's famous novel, "Dracula," but presents the count as a more sympathetic character, hence its more romantic tone.

Among the cast are four teenagers with hopes of some day being professional actors or even performing on Broadway.

Steven Bednasz, a senior at West Seneca West, plays Renfield, "the first known victim." President of his school Drama Club, and always a part of his high school musicals, theater is a big part of his life, and he plans to keep it that way. Natalie Gugino, 16, is a home-schooled astronomy enthusiast who plays the soprano bride of Dracula. Maria Droz, a junior at Williamsville East, has been in 14 productions since the seventh grade and describes her part as "Dracula's favorite bride." Meryl Gellman is a sophomore at City Honors and extends her busy life to include Gay-Straight Alliance meetings and time with her Jewish Youth Group. She plays Lucy, who "starts out as a sweet, likable woman, but ends up as a creepy vampire."

Steve intends to pursue a career in acting. "My dream is to be on Broadway," he says. Though Meryl isn't certain of her future plans, she says she definitely will always want music to be a part of her life. Natalie is the only teen cast member who does not intend to be a professional actor or singer. "Right now I need to be practical," she says of her goal of studying occupational therapy at the University at Buffalo.

Since September, the four students have been rehearsing about three times a week, for about three to four hours at a time. With a full course load, social lives and other extracurriculars, this can seem like a lot to take on, but the four seem to think it's worth it. Not only do they love the show, they love acting and singing. "When I'm on stage, I can leave myself and become someone different," says Meryl. "I can find a place within myself that I'm more comfortable with."

"It kind of makes all your problems go away, just for a moment," Steven agrees. "You can be an entirely different person."

The four are in agreement that the show is bound to be great. "It's a really cool experience and not everything you'll be expecting," says Maria. "It definitely gets you in the Halloween spirit," Steven adds.

Meryl sums it up with a smile: "It is really gonna be spectacular."

"Dracula: the Gothic Musical" will play at the Lancaster Opera House at 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday (the Saturday performance is sold out). Tickets are $16, $14 for senior citizens and students and $9 for kids 12 and younger.

Visit www.lancopera.org.

Meg Healy is a sophomore at City Honors.