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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.


Meg Healy is a sophomore at City Honors.