Chris Bernau's Vampire Adventure

Denied the chance to wear fangs on Dark Shadows, Chris Bernau became Count Dracula in an off-Broadway play called The Passion of Dracula, which opened in September 1977.

The play fittingly opened at midnight followed by a Bloody Mary cocktail party, and got mostly solid reviews. Some reviewers took it to task for mixing humor into the Gothic story, but most loved the retelling--especially Bernau's turn as the blood-thirsty count.

In his crushed velvet clothes and cape, the actor spoke in a Transylvanian accent (which one reviewer found "too Russian"), and captured the spirit of a sexy, slightly funny vampire.

"Mr. Bernau, pale as a candle and dressed all in black, achieves a fine balance between the awesome and the ridiculous," wrote Richard Eder in the New York Times. "His sudden entrances and exits, accompanied by clouds of steam, work very well."

On Dark Shadows, Chris played Phillip Todd, co-owner of a Collinsport antique shop-and foster dad of Leviathan Jeb Hawkes.

In 1977, he told the Daily News he enjoyed splitting his time between the parts of Alan Spaulding on the CBS soap The Guiding Light, and Dracula. (He'd signed on to GL just prior to getting the stage role.) "Really, the Count is a marvelous fellow to play," Bernau said. "He's the only role I ever had in which I can not only chew the scenery but the rest of the cast as well."

Bob Hall and David Richmond's humorous script gave some good lines to the vampire's naïve victims: "Look at the size of that bat!" one exclaimed, looking out a window just before being fanged. The play was directed by Peter Bennett and staged at the Cherry Lane Theatre.

The Passion of Dracula is a revamped version of Bram Stoker's classic. It takes place at a sanitarium, where the mysterious Count Dracula has recently set up housekeeping at a rundown mansion next door-and local village maidens have been dropping like flies. (Flies and spiders are dropping too, as a sanitarium inmate named Renfield pops them into his mouth throughout the play.) The 1977 production was full of special effects, including an impressive transformation from man to bat. In another scene, a cross burst into flames when grasped by the Count.

That fall was a good time for vampire fans in New York City. Shortly after Chris began breathing undead life into Dracula, Frank Langella started playing the same part in the Broadway production of Dracula, at the Martin Beck Theatre.

John Hirsch of The Villager compared Bernau and Langella in a just-pre-Halloween review. While he found Bernau's performance "lecherous, often funny, and ultimately sympathetic" (a lot like Jonathan Frid's Barnabas), he thought Langella's Count Dracula was "sinister and never pitiable" and animalistic-crouching and growling his way across the stage.

Langella's interpretation was committed to film in 1979, in the movie Dracula. Bernau's play was taped by Showtime and broadcast in January 1980.

For more stories about the Dark Shadows cast, read the book Barnabas & Company by Craig Hamrick.

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