Vampirates 2017 Review

Vampirates 2017 Review: Captain Black
Captain Black - Vampirate
Vampirates is a bloody cask of grog that leaves its audience well glutted.

Vampirates Dinner Adventure swashes more buckles than any live production we have seen since The Ghost and Mrs. Muir at the NoHo Arts Center in 2004 - or is that buckles more swashes? Either way, this energetic musical-acrobatic-dinner-theatre extravaganza rides the waves at full speed ahead, blasting audiences with a fusillade of fun.

A seasonal offering at the Pirates Dinner Adventure in Buena Park, Vampirates offers a Halloween overlay that fits smoothly into the venue: it's a perfectly logical step to have pirates who are quite literally blood-thirsty, and it only takes a few extra cobwebs and bats to turn the skull-and-crossbones decor into a supernatural scare show. (Not that it's really scary - think Pirates of the Caribbean.) The story has a female vampire hunter and her gypsy cohort kidnapped by the undead crew of Captain Sebastian Black, who plans to open a portal to the netherworld, unleashing Hell on Earth. Guests (i.e., paying customers) are shanghaied - taken prisoner and "forced" to watch the action-packed adventure, which takes place aboard an elaborate Spanish Galleon set inside an artificial lagoon. The production includes a four-course dinner and two-hours of songs, swordplay, and stunts. It's almost too much - but you can never have too much of a good thing.

Vampires 2017 Review: Pre-Show
Vampirates 2017 Review pre-show vampire hunter
The Vampire Huntress addresses the audience during the pre-show. Copyright 2017 Warren So

Vampirates advises customers to arrive 1-and-a-half to 2 hours before show time. The reason: the venue is filled with bars, souvenir shops, and lovely rooms decorated for the event; you will appreciate the opportunity to relax, savor the piratical atmosphere, and imbibe themed drinks, such as a Crypt Keeper (Blueberry Vodka, BLue Curacao, sweet-and-sour, and Pineapple juice), which can be purchased in collectible goblets.

A half-hour before the official start time, there is a pre-show on a small stage next to one of the bars. This introduces the characters and fills in the back story (the vampire huntress's fiance has recently become one of the undead). Then the Vampirates swing into action (literally) ,taking the audience prisoner and splitting them into groups - one for each of Captain Black's color-coded crew: purple, blue, orange, red, green, and yellow. This determines seating section and loyalty, as the "prisoners" are expected to root for their vampirate during the various competitions that ensue.

Vampires 2017 Review: Main Show & Dinner
Vampirates 2017 Review vampires swinging action
Vampirates swing into action. Copyright 2017 Yuki Tanaka

The main show takes place in a large theatre - like something out of Siegfried and Roy - with spectacular lighting, roiling fog, and occasionally explosive effects. Rather like an opera, the story (the vampire huntress rekindles the flame with her undead fiancée, turning the tables on Captain Black) serves mostly as a pretext for the songs - except that in this case, it's not only songs but also fights, escapes, contests, special effects, and some amazing acrobatic work involving the gypsy girl and her vampirate paramour (worth the price of admission all on its own).

As amazing as the stunt work is individually, more amazing still is its enormity and variety. Simply watching it is exhausting; it seems incredible that the performers can maintain their unflagging energy level from start to finish, with some of the most challenging work near the end. Also impressive is the versatility: we expect a certain amount of specialization in a show with this much happening, but except for the singing and acrobatics, just about everybody took a turn at everything: swinging from ropes, jumping on trampolines, fighting with swords. And all of it is perfectly timed and coordinated: it's one thing for a single pirate to fly from a mast to the deck, suspended by a rope; it's quite another for six of them to do it simultaneously without colliding.

The experience is enhanced with audience participation. Pre-selected "prisoners" aid the pirate leading their section during the contests to determine who gets to draw first blood from the kidnapped gypsy girl. While the action plays out on stage, pirate wenches and male servers (what is the male equivalent of "wench"?) unobtrusively attend to dinner, which is excellent: soup/salad, main courses, and desert. (The kitchen handles special dietary request with aplomb, creating, for example, a very tasty vegetarian plate.)

Vampires 2017 Review: Conclusion
Vampirates 2017 Review swordfight on mast
Captain Black faces a renegade member of his vampirate crew. Copyright 2017 Warren So

With its surfeit of stunts and special effects, Vampirates Dinner Adventure joyfully verges on overkill (pun intended: the body count rivals a Friday the 13th movie). Fortunately, it's impossible to have too much of a good thing. This is one cask full of grog that will leave you as well glutted and satisfied as an overfed vampire.

Vampirates 2017 sets sail daily at Pirates Dinner Adventure through October 31. Each performance begins with a pre-show, followed by the main show and dinner; there is a costume contest on weekends. The address is 7600 Beach boulevard, Buena Park, CA 90620. Reservations required: Call 866-439-2469, or visit the official website:  piratesdinneradventureca.com.

Find more Halloween Tours and Shows in A Halloween Haunts Master List.

More in this series: 

  1. Vampirates 2017 Review
  2. Vampirates 2017 Photos

Steve Biodrowski, Administrator

A graduate of USC film school, Steve Biodrowski has worked as a film critic, journalist, and editor at Movieline, Premiere, Le Cinephage, The Dark Side., Cinefantastique magazine, Fandom.com, and Cinescape Online. He is currently Managing Editor of Cinefantastique Online and owner-operator of Hollywood Gothique.