As we get to know Peter Bretter, we find out that, while he has a day job as a composer on Sarah's hit television show, he dreams of staging an intricate musical, about...Dracula's quest to find love, as told through puppets. The puppet musical was not initially in the script, though songwriter, musician and musical theater fanatic Jason Segel had indeed been writing a Dracula-themed musical, just for fun.
"We wanted a big climax that people wouldn't expect and haven't seen before," notes Nicholas Stoller. "We wanted it to have a Les Misérables style finale, with 30 puppets on stage." He adds, "And if our careers are over, so be it."
The filmmakers met with several different puppeteer companies for the odd job at hand. Ultimately, Jim Henson's Creature Shop came up with the characters whose movement and charm sucks (pardon the pun) the audience into this comedy concept. The shop's creative supervisor PETER BROOKE and production supervisor MICHAEL OOSTEROM used fleece to make the faces of the puppets, and hand operated them with rods.
The result is a puppet Dracula musical titled A Taste For Love. Forgetting Sarah Marshall production designer De Govia built an interior of an aged theater set on stage, complete with worn velvet seats and off-stage right and left wings. Practical locations were considered for the set, but as the musical became more intricate, it was clear that for cinematographer Alsobrook to correctly light it, a theater had to be built from scratch.
The puppeteers had never had a student like Segel. Says Henson's Peter Brooke, "We were concerned that the main hero puppet of Dracula was going to be performed by an actor, and not a professional puppeteer. But Jason is amazing and has taken to puppeteering like a duck to water." The performer had to wear a head-to-toe black Lycra bodysuit as he operated his character and sang live as Dracula.
On Stoller: "In the initial meetings with the companies, they handed out puppets to all of us. We literally had to take the puppet away from Jason during the meeting, he was so into it; he is independently obsessed with puppets."
Peter's brother, Brian, sings and puppeteers as Dracula's nemesis, Van Helsing. Hader comments on the tricks of the trade: "My puppeteering coach told me you can always sell your performance if you look the same way and direction that the puppet's eyes are looking."
Along with a supporting puppeteer cast, Segel and Hader recorded the Dracula musical at Capitol Studios. Recalls music supervisor Karp, "That was my favorite moment on this film. Seeing Jason sit down behind this huge grand piano in a room at the Capitol and sing his heart out. His face said it all."
Not everyone was initially sold on the concept. But during rehearsals, that quickly changed. Notes Robertson, "I have to admit, I was a naysayer about the puppet musical in the beginning. I thought it was a cute idea, but I couldn't believe how much energy was being put into this scene. Then I went to the dress rehearsal, and I was floored at the work and detail, and how it fit so well as the story's finale."
In addition to the main puppet characters of Dracula and Van Helsing, there were two female lead characters, a succubus and an angel. It was no coincidence that the succubus puppet-with her blond hair and fangs-resembles Sarah Marshall, while the raven-haired angel favors Rachel Jansen. A wardrobe crafted by costume designer Evans complimented the puppets, and both of them were actually fitted with full sets of long, manicured fingernails.
Fifteen other puppeteers were tasked to operate the musical cast of A Taste For Love. The crew found it curious that the puppeteers were so serious about their work that they'd often have conversations with one another between takes...still mouthing with their creatures. Comments De Govia, "When you see a great puppeteer with a puppet on their hand, you immediately relate to the puppet. That's who is talking to you."