Musicals Based On Gothic Literature, Part I~ In Which There Are Too Many Love-Triangles For My Liking, Good Grief

Salutations, my friends!

Gothic literature is pretty wild. So is musical theatre. Over the years, people have attempted to mix the two—with varying levels of success.

Recently, I went through a little gothic literature phase. And there is so much drama there, let me tell you. Sometimes it’s just straight-up melodrama, honestly. I have to laugh, but I love it. Books where people frequently burst into wild weeping or become horribly ill because their Feelings are just So Horrifying are kind of my jam.

It occurred to me that all of the gothic literature I was reading had been adapted into musicals at one time or other. Of course I decided I must analyze said musicals directly, and thus this post was born. It turns out I complain more than anything else, but what else is new?

Because I have just so much to say, and I didn’t want this post to be insufferably long, I decided to break it into two parts. Today, in Part I, I will be critiquing three gothic musicals: Dracula, Jekyll and Hyde, and Frankenstein.

All right, now that that’s out of the way, let’s get to the gothic stuff.

Dracula (2001; cast recording 2005)

Book and Lyrics by Don Black and Christopher Hampton
Music by Frank Wildhorn

Basis: Dracula by Bram Stoker (published 1897)

The music: Wildhorn tends towards a ‘90s pop ballad sound, which…isn’t exactly my favorite thing. Nor does it particularly enhance the gothic horror vibe of the story—it often feels too mellow. Many of the songs are underwhelming in that regard. However, there is also a harder rock element in much of the music, and that brings more of the drama that you would expect (I was surprised to discover recently that gothic literature and rock music go rather well together).

 There’s really nothing classical about this musical, though a more traditional musical theatre sound makes its way in there now and again. We get some eerie bits and a creepy violin…and then a kind of gospel(?)-sounding one, and I’m not quite sure where that came from.

Overall the music just kind of comes across as “meh”—not terrible, but not all that memorable either. The best thing about the soundtrack is just James Barbour’s voice, actually.

Notable tracks: “The Master’s Song” has a super fun violin part.

“Life After Life” is very dramatic (though the creepy chanting at the beginning is…kind of terrifying…and the end is…hard not to laugh at—quite cringe-worthy, to be honest).

“Deep in the Darkest Night” is not in the right style at all for this story, but it’s kind of a jam and it’s hilarious to picture Van Helsing actually singing it.

“The Longer I Live” is mostly great because James Barbour (and also has the least ‘90s pop flavor of all the ballads, so).

The story: Well. For the most part, the musical is a fairly faithful adaption of the book—most of the original characters are retained, and many of the plot points are unaltered.

With, of course, one (hem) slight exception.

In the original book, Mina has absolutely NO romantic inclinations towards Dracula. She is preyed upon by him and is forced to drink his blood, but the whole thing is severely traumatizing to her, and only makes her cling to her husband Jonathan more fiercely. Seriously, she is MORTIFIED. There also isn’t any indication that Dracula is uniquely effected by Mina or that she causes him to rethink his life choices. On the contrary, Dracula is a thoroughly depraved, evil character who is not in a state to be caring for anyone.

In the musical however, they decided to create a love-triangle by fabricating a steamy romance between Dracula and Mina (UGH, GOOD GRIEF). Mina basically spends the whole show at war with herself about whether she should be with the upstanding Jonathan or the much more exciting and passionate Dracula. Ultimately she chooses Dracula (WHY THOUGH). But meanwhile, Dracula is profoundly moved by Mina and decides to make her kill him to spare her from the fate of becoming a vampire. Because, you know, he just loves her so much.


Concluding thoughts: I kind of hate it, to be honest. What they did to Mina totally disrespects the original character, and I can’t quite forgive them for that. I get the idea of trying to make the villain a more three-dimensional character, but…in this case it just didn’t work for me. The trope of a girl falling for a severely abusive guy (I mean, Dracula is basically a serial rapist/killer?? WHAT is attractive here??) and causing him to miraculously change under the influence of her angelic aura is…very irksome to me. A more faithful adaption of the story (i.e. one in which Mina isn’t a complete idiot) would be more to my liking. It also doesn’t help that the music is overall very mediocre.

Jekyll and Hyde (1990; Broadway cast recording 1997)

Book by Leslie Bricusse
Lyrics by Leslie Bricusse, Steve Cuden and Frank Wildhorn
Music by Frank Wildhorn

Basis: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson (published 1886)

The music: It’s Wildhorn again, so the pop-ballad feel is going strong (especially in the female solos—something that’s true in the Dracula musical as well). There is more of a classic-musical-theatre style in this musical, though, as well as more variety in the chorus numbers (interesting harmonies and such). We have some Sondheim-esque sounds happening (crazy rhythmic/wordy stuff, you know), with some Les Mis influence in there for sure. There is certainly a dark, brooding feel to a lot of the songs, which fits the story very well. (If we could just lose the pop-ballad we’d be golden.)

Notable tracks: “Façade” is a lively, cynical ensemble number and it’s rather catchy.

“His Work and Nothing More” (I prefer this version to the Broadway album) is just dramatic and brooding and I love the way the parts interweave.

“Mass” is only on the older album but it’s so eerie and beautiful!

“Confrontation” would be wild to perform, I just have to say. The drama, though.

The story: This one is VERY loosely based on the book. Essentially the fact that you have a doctor named Jekyll who has a drug-induced alter ego named Hyde is the only recognizable element—that and the existence of John Utterson. Aside from that, things go their own merry way. To be fair, the original story is a novella, so some expansion was inevitable.

In the musical, Jekyll creates the drug with the motivation of healing his mentally deranged father, but the members of the board adamantly deny him the chance to test on a human subject, so he must test it on himself. Hyde later goes on a killing spree and brutally murders everyone on the board. And of course we have the addition of a bizarre love-triangle between Jekyll/Hyde, Emma and Lucy (both entirely new characters—his fiancée and a prostitute, respectively). Most of the story revolves around drama generated from these romantic(?) relationships.

So, best ever expansion of a story that I ever heard of.

Concluding thoughts: The whole thing is just kind of icky to me. It’s just extremely dark and cynical without any redemption to it. It’s like something Miss Wade (from Little Dorrit) could have written, if that tells you anything. And I’m really not excited about adding disturbing love-triangles to these things, apparently. It’s just annoying. Not to mention alarming?? The story was better without. Some of the music is interesting to listen to, but overall I find I like to pretend that this musical doesn’t exist.

Frankenstein (2007; cast recording 2008)

Book and Lyrics by Jeffrey Jackson
Music by Mark Baron

Basis: Frankenstein (or, the Modern Prometheus) by Mary Shelley (published 1818)

The music: Mark Baron has a rock background, and that influence is evident in his score for this musical. There is a classic-musical-theatre influence as well (I just realized that when I say this I kind of mean golden-age Alan Menken?? i.e. The Little Mermaid/Beauty and the Beast/Hunchback of Notre Dame), with the addition (alas) of the pop ballad here and there (seems we can’t avoid it, can we?).

I find that a rock style is surprisingly conducive to gothic literature, though?? Especially when blended with a more classical/musical theatre style. Rock, unlike pop, has an innate theatricality and drama. It’s also a bit over-the-top, which is a key attribute of gothic literature, so they complement each other rather nicely. This musical is what brought my attention to this fact, even though I’ve been listening to The Phantom of the Opera for years and that employs a very similar technique. Crazy.

 There are some beautiful subdued pieces with lovely harmonies that don’t entirely fall into the pop-feel, and a lot of ensemble pieces with overlapping melodies that I quite enjoy. There are still those moments when it gets a bit too pop-oriented for my taste, or it gets a tad over-powering or repetitive in its rock element, but for the most part, the music fits quite well with the story.

Also it’s almost entirely sung through with very little dialogue, which in my opinion is a plus. The more music the better.

Notable tracks: “Amen” has some lovely themes and such beautiful drama.

“The Hands of Time” has some angsty interweaving parts, and features Victor in a state of mental shock.

 “The Music of Love” is just so pretty. Also it hits you in the feels, because Reasons.

And of course there’s “The Proposition”. What a banger. (REaniMAtioN!!)

But also “The Modern Prometheus”. Also a banger.

And also…I mean, yes, I’m stopping.

The story: This adaption is accurate for the most part, even retaining good old Robert Walton as the narrator of the tale (we love Robert Walton). It has the feel of a recounted history and the timeline is somewhat fluid, with overlapping character narrations, just like the original book.

The key plot points are essentially intact, though details are frequently changed. The most significant change to the story is that Victor ultimately reconciles with the Creature in this version. Other changes include Victor setting fire to his laboratory in an attempt to dispose of the Creature (really, son), the fate of the old blind man, and Henry actually discovering Victor’s work on the female creature and confronting him about it. Also this version omits the existence of the middle Frankenstein child, Ernest. Poor kid.

There are actually some Jekyll and Hyde influences here, I think (though thankfully not in the love-triangle department), particularly in the addition of the adamant naysayers at Victor’s college; they bear a striking resemblance to the board that denies Jekyll’s project.

And yet, despite several changes, the essence of the story (and the integrity of its characters) is retained. What a concept.

Concluding thoughts: So, this is how it’s done?? I mean, when you have such beautiful source material at your fingertips, why go and mess it up with love-triangles and such nonsense? Just tell us the story the author gave us, and heighten the narrative by inserting dramatic songs. The changes that were made to the story in this version enhance rather than detract from the original narrative, for the most part. The change to the ending might be unwelcome to some people, but I kind of appreciate the touch of redemption there. I like both endings, book and musical, for different reasons.


Well, there you have Part I. I hope that you enjoyed reading all of my complaints concerning the terrible shortcomings of these adaptions. I guess I just have Feelings about this.

Have you listened to any of these musicals? Have you read the gothic literature upon which they are based? Do unfaithful adaptions bother you? What is a trope that sets your teeth on edge? Do you think that rock music is conducive to gothic literature, or do you beg to differ?

18 thoughts on “Musicals Based On Gothic Literature, Part I~ In Which There Are Too Many Love-Triangles For My Liking, Good Grief

  1. Good afternoon! I was very excited to discover your post as I have also recently fallen down the hole of Gothic Lit x Musicals. First off, yes, why so many love triangles?? Just leave the characters alone *please*.
    I have yet to listen to Dracula, mostly because I am in the middle of the novel currently, and wanted to wait until after I finished it.
    I agree with your thoughts on Jekyll & Hyde. I’ve mostly cherry-picked songs I like from it and have moved on. Personally, I’m particularly fond of “Alive’, ‘Streak of Madness’, ‘Bring on the Men’ (it’s just very fun, do not judge), ‘Murder, Murder!’, and ‘The Confrontation’.
    Frankenstein started my discovery of this particular side of theatre and it remains my favourite. I actually did my own review of it on my blog (Rainy Days and Stardust Veins if you want to read it)! An incredibly well-done adaptation of my personal favourite gothic novel. I actually like the changed ending with ‘Coming of the Dawn’. Victor can have some character development. As a treat. Other songs I liked are ‘Amen’, ‘Birth to My Creation’, ‘Hands of Time’, ‘The Proposition’ and, of course, ‘The Modern Prometheus’. The only thing I really do not like about this one is the very bland and soprano-love-interest-y angle they took with Elizabeth. I just think she deserves better.
    Glad to know I’m not alone in this odd, very dramatic, but ultimately fun discovery!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello!! I am pleased to meet another gothic literature inspired musicals fan. 🙂

      Ugh, yes, the love-triangles are so irksome. There’s already enough drama going on, we’re talking about gothic literature for crying out loud.

      Ooh, I hope you like Dracula! But the musical is…hm…a bit on the disappointing side…to put it mildly. It does have a few good songs, though. I just CANNOT FORGIVE WHAT THEY DID TO MINA, OKAY

      Jekyll and Hyde could have been so much better. “Murder, Murder” almost made it onto my list, actually! It’s a lot of fun.

      I LOVE FRANKENSTEIN. I may be slightly obsessed. The discovery of that musical was actually what caused me to explore the others, but alas, none of them lived up to this one. It’s just such a great adaption. And the book is one of my favorites as well, so. I will have to look up your review! I agree that they could have done better with Elizabeth.

      Thank you so much for commenting! It’s so fun to geek out about this stuff!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. i’ve only read frankenstein, so i can’t really say whether or not i love gothic literature, but my introduction to the genre has definitely left me wanting to read more. it seems so depressing and dark but also funny?? xD it’s SO DRAMATIC, like you said, sometimes so much so that you can’t do anything BUT laugh. xD dracula is next on my list.

    stupid love triangles. always going around and messing up everything for everybody. i kind of hate them.

    am not familiar with any of these musicals but I quite enjoyed reading your thoughts on them! you’re writing is always so entertaining, sponge. 😀 i definitely want to check out the frankenstein musical now! somehow gothic literature and rock music kind of make sense.

    wonderful post, sponge, as always! i’ve missed reading your writings, so this was a joy. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Frankenstein is definitely one of my favorite (possibly my very favorite) of gothic novels, and it pleased me greatly to discover a decent musical adaption of it. It has just the right mixture of serious drama and over-the-top drama.

      Ugh, why do love-triangles exist

      Thank you, Eden! I am glad to hear it. I hope that you like the Frankenstein musical! It’s certainly something.

      Thank you, thank you!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve only read Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and I dunno, half? of Dracula, so I couldn’t completely follow how the musicals messed the original story up, BUT I will say that Mina was a dear and also super smart and literally how dare they. (Also I don’t really understand why people want to make villains like Dracula more “human.” Like they’re MONSTERS. The monster-ness is what makes this particular type of villain…an effective villain.) I LOVED picturing Van Helsing singing “Deep in the Darkest Night,” because, while it’s hilariously wrong for the story, it’s weirdly right for him and his Super Wholesome energy. In a weird way it just worked, idk.

    Love triangles are THE WORST. I mean, they can be fine (Jane Austen!) (the romance trope that bothers me far more is instalove) (also teenagers pledging eternal love, y’all are thirteen), but putting them into stories that don’t even have romance in the first place???!? Really now.

    Have you listened to “Jesus Christ, Superstar”? My friend who’s obsessed with it was sharing some of it with me and I eventually stopped listening because wow this is heretical, I cannot (said friend is not Christian, hence it did not bother her), and at first I was sooo skeptical of the idea of a classic rock musical, but…it worked really, really well??? I was interested in your thoughts on the Frankenstein music, because I think those are really good points about why rock can actually work really well for gothic, and that kind of also applies to epic human tragedies (which is totally a genre), so yeah. Made some things make sense to me.

    Unfaithful adaptations bother me a lot. I have issues with the LOTR movies, for heaven’s sake. XD

    I enjoyed this post greatly, dear Sponge, despite my unfamiliarity with the musicals! Sometimes I think you could write a grocery list and make it entertaining, though, so there’s that.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. HOW DARE THEY INDEED. (I am not over the Mina outrage…in case you couldn’t tell.) And yeah, there are some kinds of villains that are human and then there are the kinds that are supposed to be straight-up monsters and trying to humanize them just does not work. After reading Dracula it’s hard for me to fathom how every movie adaption (apparently, I haven’t seen any) makes the Dracula/Mina thing a big romantic focus. Just why. Does nobody notice the actual EVIL here?? “Deep in the Darkest Night” is quite the song, eh? Haha, the Super Wholesome energy really does fit, I get what you mean. Van Helsing is quite a dear old Dutch man, I must say.

      Love-triangles have proper contexts, and then they show up in places where they do NOT belong, and that is when I get very grumpy about it. Especially the type of love-triangle that features in both Dracula and Jekyll and Hyde: the not-even-borderline abusive and violently passionate kind that I would hate as a romance in a story even if it wasn’t attached to a love-triangle. Blegh. I guess I’m really taking out my rage on the love-triangle when what is really bothering me is that they created the triangle by adding in the most toxic romance ever. Who thought this was a good idea?? Instalove is also not so good, though when handled properly it doesn’t bother me all that much (I actually know some people that one could accuse of “instalove”, so maybe that’s part of it). It can be super obnoxious, though. Ah, teenagers. Teenage related romance is almost always obnoxious.

      I haven’t listened to Jesus Christ Superstar, though I think I’ve heard the title song once? I don’t know that much about it except that it’s a rock musical and I’ve always been under the impression that it would bother me theologically, though I don’t really know what they did with the story so I can’t name specific issues? But yeah, I can see how rock music could be good for epic human tragedies for the same reasons that it’s good for gothic literature. It was weird when I finally connected the dots there.

      Hm, yes. Why do so many unfaithful adaptions have to exist?

      Thank you! Haha, I appreciate it. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Frankenstein (the musical) actually looks not too terrible, and I am now intrigued! (The book has been on my TBR for so long, and I should probably read it first, though!)

    But WHhhhAAAAAT. I am sputtering in rage at what they did in Dracula. I just finished the novel and actually really enjoyed it (especially the friendships and the themes. AND the LACK of dramatic pining-for-the-one-who-rejected-you and enmity-among-the-rejected. Namely the amazing fact that Art, Seward, and Quincy remained bros even when Lucy picked Art…seriously, this is Quality Stuff.)
    But what they did to Mina in the musical…no. NO. This is NAUSEATING to me.

    Wonderful post, Sponge!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The Frankenstein musical is quite good in my opinion! I was quite pleasantly surprised. You definitely need to read Frankenstein! And then listen to the musical. 🙂 Both are worthy of your attention.

      I KNOW, RIGHT?? I am sputtering in rage right along with you. WHAT THEY DID TO MINA. HOW COULD THEY. THERE SHOULD BE A LAW-
      But the novel, on the other hand is great. The bros! Art, Seward and Quincy are all dears and I love their friendship. The lack of Drama between them over Lucy is so refreshing. Quality Stuff, indeed. There were a lot of things in that book that could have gone a bad direction and just DIDN’T and I appreciate it so much.

      Thank you!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Have read all three on your list…and confess to having way too much Frankenstein on my playlist. Or perhaps not enough? Haven’t watched any of the musicals in full yet…cheers to you for making it through them all!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Too much Frankenstein, you say? Not enough. Definitely not enough. 😉
      I confess I haven’t actually seen Dracula or Jekyll and Hyde- I just listened to the cast recordings and read synopses. I saw an earlier draft (from 2002) of Frankenstein on YouTube, which was super interesting, but it wasn’t as close to the book as the newer version, which I haven’t seen.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Eh, not exactly. The 2007 one is the only official cast album that I’ve found. The 2002 version is just an earlier draft of the same musical, so it’s interesting to hear the songs as they were back then. Some of them are exactly the same (for the most part) and a couple are totally different. Some just have alternate lyrics. Anyway. I found it on YouTube, and I doubt they had an official cast album.

        Liked by 1 person

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