After relentlessly touring the length and breadth of the UK over the last few decades with the acclaimed (and much loved) musical theatre production Vampires Rock Ghost Train, Steve Steinman has taken a leap of faith and invested majorly with his largest production to date: Steve Steinman’s Vampires Rock Day Of The Dead. A 27-strong cast that features a symphonic orchestra. A fantastic band. Brass section. Dancers. One incredible vocalist after another, including Nathan James from NWOCR favourites Inglorious. A song list to awaken the dead. Great lights. And Pyro. Bigger. Better. More wow-factor. Or put more simply; the show that the tenacious Steinman has been building toward for some time now.
With the humour of Vampires Rock Ghost Train taking a rest until Steinman stokes the engines again in early 2024, Day Of The Dead is a gig rather than a musical. Played out in front of a stunning wall of screens and a tiered stage, the Day Of The Dead concept has the orchestra (led by multi-instrumentalist Greg Morton) and band members wearing masks for added effect. It has to be said; it is a fantastic visual having sections of the orchestra on either side of the stage – one side all violins, the other a mix of violins and cellos – and with the girls wearing red and black rose headbands, and the guys wearing top hats, the traditional Mexican theme of Día de Muertos (a holiday which almost runs concurrently with these shows) is celebrated. As is the macabre. Entrances and exits are made through a crypt, complete with a winged crypt-keeper, and atop the crypt sits drummer Chris Barber who has the best seat in the house (this guy can play, and forms the backbone of the band with bassist Joe Brierley).
With the eery intro music fading out, the string section starts up with some deeply foreboding music that gradually bleeds into the familiar opening strains to Metallica’s ‘Enter Sandman’ and the stage comes to life with an explosion of music and movement. Vocalist/guitarist James Marsh proceeds to deliver the first of many first-rate vocal performances from the cast tonight. The combination of strings, the band (the dual guitar work from Marsh, and Inglorious’s Dan Stevens is particularly fiery), and the four female performers (Trixabelle Bold, Claire Zamore, Tanyth Roberts, Olivia Doherty-Marks) works very well, and at times it’s like being a tennis fan at Wimbledon moving your head side-to-side to ensure you don’t miss out on anything.
Once ‘Sandman’ ends, it’s the first appearance of the night from Steve Steinman for a spirited, galloping version of ‘Welcome to The Jungle’. Staying with the Vampire imagery from Vampires Rock Ghost Train, Steinman still sports fangs, as does the amazing troupe of singers/dancers, and once performer Claire Zamore is bitten on the neck by Steinman at the end of ‘Welcome to The Jungle’, the blood begins to flow, and she becomes one of the undead. There has always been a fascinating degree of seductiveness and sexuality within the arts when it comes to vampires and this show, to an extent, continues in that direction. In all honesty, though, it’s all about the music and the considerable talent on display. The Day Of The Dead/vampire imagery is the icing on the cake. Claire comes back to life and delivers a gorgeous version of ‘Holding Out for a Hero’ that begins in a spine-tingling way with just her isolated vocals alongside some gentle strings from the orchestra. Just one highlight from a night of many.
When the orchestral intro to Queen’s ‘Who Wants to Live Forever’ begins, Nathan James takes to the stage for the first time during the evening. As soon as the song started, it was always going to be James coming through the curtains because this was the song that he was born to perform. He delivers a masterclass vocal performance full of emotion and with the orchestra backing him up (and scenes of Big Tam Connery killing The Kurgan in Highlander playing out on the screens) it is one of those moments where you hope that there is an HD recording of it on the way. With Inglorious on hiatus, it is fantastic seeing Nathan James back onstage again, especially when he is beaming from ear to ear as he rocks out once again with his Inglorious brother Dan Stevens on a killer version of ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’, and a jaw-dropping version of ‘I Surrender’ (the 4 female backing singers play their part on this one) which comes as a thrilling one-two of Russ Ballard-penned Rainbow hits alongside ‘Since You Been Gone’. There will be some in the audience who will be hearing Nathan James for the first time on this tour, and that’s the beauty of a show like this; you get to enjoy a night full of classic music whilst discovering new talent. And who can argue with that?
Steinman himself is more than capable of delivering an emotional vocal performance, especially on his original material, the best of which is the gorgeous rendition of ‘I Will Wear You Like A Crown’ – taken from his brand-new album ‘Heaven’s Gate’. One of those songs that has the well-worn phrase “emotional rollercoaster” on standby, but in true Jim Steinman fashion, the song is an emotional rollercoaster full of the trademark Steinman-isms that make Jim Steinman music so easily identifiable. The Jim Steinman/Meat Loaf connection of course plays a major role in Steve Steinman’s life and when he pulls Meat’s ‘Out of the Frying Pan (and Into the Fire)’ out of the hat, he does so with ease. A performer who constantly puts his money where his mouth is, Steve Steinman consistently creates high-quality music without the backing of a major label, and the end result is at times quite staggering – see the 11-minute title track to ‘Heaven’s Gate’ which would surely have his much-missed namesake Jim looking down in approval from above.
The highlights keep on coming and the second half of the show moves along at a relentless pace; Steve’s own ‘Take a Leap of Faith’ is a fantastic uptempo rocker that gets the blood pumping and the heart rate up; Tanyth Roberts delivers an incredible vocal performance on ‘Bring Me to Life’ which alongside the orchestra is spellbinding; Greg Morton rests his cello down to take up position behind the piano for an arm-hair raising run through of ‘Sound of Silence’ that is utterly gorgeous; Trixabelle Bold pays homage to Hazel O’Connor with a stunning, heartfelt version of ‘Will You?’ that comes complete with the sax solo from the original (courtesy of John Wolfenden), such a great song and it is amazing to hear it still having an impact on an audience 43 years later and Ms. Bold knocks it out of the park; the enthusiasm from long-time Steinman cohort John Evans is infectious and it’s great watching him dancing on his riser next to Harry Garbutt’s keyboards (definitely a man that marches to the beat of his own drum) and a great time is had by all once he comes down from the riser to work the crowd in a joyous version of ‘Jump’ that has the audience on their feet jumping, clapping, and singing. In the first half, Evans more than held his own with a riotous romp through ‘Fear of The Dark’ that highlighted the strong vocals from someone who usually plays it for laughs as Bosely The Janitor in Ghost Train.
With the night drawing to a close, “The sirens are screaming, and the fires are howling/Way down in the valley tonight…” and Steinman leads the cast in a roof-raising version of ‘Bat Out of Hell’ that has the audience playing their part by repeating lines back at Steinman in volume, and James Marsh gets the motorcycle-guitar parts down to a Tee. The guitar work from Marsh and his compadre Dan Stevens is stunning, especially since ‘Bat Out of Hell’ is often regarded as one of the hardest songs to play on a guitar because of the skills of Todd Rundgren who created all the guitar parts on the original. In true West End fashion, the gig ends with the entire troupe front and centre for what else but ‘God Gave Rock and Roll to You’ (another Russ Ballard-penned classic), and the night ends in true singalong style with the audience and cast joined as one. Once the last bow is taken, the stage is cleared and the smiling audience filters out into the Edinburgh night to dodge numerous versions of Harley Quinn and Frank-N-Furter…gotta love Halloween.
Vampires Rock Day Of The Dead is a world-class production that proves once and for all that you don’t have to be a big-name producer to put on a show worthy of some of the biggest stages in the UK. This must have come with so many hurdles for Steve Steinman to navigate, his tenacity has paid off though and he has created a show that if there is any justice, will run and run, and get bigger and bigger with each run. A special mention needs to go to the lighting folks because they truly have excelled. From a photographer’s point of view, there is nothing more frustrating than when you are shooting a show and the artist has put a lot of effort into their show and the lighting has either been forgotten about, or the artist wants to remain mysterious and sticks with blue and red lights, or goes all in on smoke thus rendering decent shots null and void (looking at you Ice Nine Kills). Not so with this show, the production and lighting are first-rate which means not only can the audience see the smiles on all the cast members, but our photographer Callum is happy…and he’s a Geordie living in Fife so he needs cheering up.
Remaining tour dates and details of Steve Steinman’s new album can be found here. With only 3 remaining dates in 2023, get your tickets now, it is a spectacular night out.
Review – Dave
All images – Callum Scott