BWW Reviews: Reinvented JEKYLL & HYDE is an Exciting Electric Experience
Frank Wildhorn's JEKYLL & HYDE has been reinvented and completely reworked. The new production is not a revival of the show, but a revisal-a reimagining of the material for a contemporary audience. Over the course of a whirlwind 25 weeks, this production is touring the nation before it opens in April 2013 on Broadway. The transformed production stars Constantine Maroulis of American Idol and ROCK OF AGES fame, multi-platnium R&B/pop singer Debroah Cox, and seasoned Broadway actress Teal Wicks.
Like the previous incarnations, the show tells the tale of Dr. Henry Jekyll, who ambitiously seeks approval to test a serum on a human subject that would separate and manipulate the duality of the human soul. His motivation for this undertaking is to save his father, who is locked away in an asylum. Denied permission to test on a human subject and devoted to his work, Jekyll finds himself becoming more and more estranged from the woman he loves, Emma Carew. He then makes the choice to use himself as his human test subject and unleashes a murderous, riotous alter-ego named Edward Hyde onto the streets of Victorian London.
Making bold directorial choices, Jeff Calhoun's cast performs the show more as a rock and pop concert with a storyline strung through it. Almost the entirety of the show's action takes place on the stage floor without utilizing other levels, which only adds to the concert feeling. Roaring electric guitars, stylized pop synthesizers, and driving percussion are skillfully employed by composer Frank Wildhorn, orchestrator Kim Scharnberg, arranger Jason Howland, and musical director Steven Landau to keep the concert ambience alive. Upon hearing the new scoring for the show, it is readily apparent that Frank Wildhorn has returned to his pop roots with this production. From the opening electric riffs of the brief overture, mixed with the crackling sounds of live electricity and the flashing of the lights that frame the arch, it is immediately apparent that this is a JEKYLL & HYDE unlike any other.
Starring in the titular double roles, Constantine Maroulis has an enigmatic stage presence. No matter how humble and reserved he can be in person, on stage the charming theatre geek gives way to the rock star persona that so many associate him with; thus, Constantine Maroulis capably commands the audience's attention. He plays Jekyll with an air of youthful and naïve passion, singing him mostly in a pop tenor format. His Hyde is darker and often sings with the 80s Hair Band sound that imbued his role in ROCKS OF AGES. These character and vocal choices bring a noticeable fresh air to the piece, while giving long time fans of Constantine Maroulis everything they would expect from him. He delivered impressive, powerhouse vocals on "This is the Moment" and was terrifyingly unnerving on the "Sympathy, Tenderness (Reprise)." His "Alive," "Alive (reprise)," and "Confrontation" were strong and bombastic; however, crisper enunciation would make each of these numbers more memorable and help the audience to better understand the lyrics and emotional force of each of these iconic numbers.
Deborah Cox advantageously utilizes her celebrated earthy and soulful style to characterize a Lucy that is constantly in tangible conflict. It is apparent that she derives no pleasure from her position and is often afraid of Hyde, Spider, and the other rough and seedy clients she works with; however, she feels trapped and cannot achieve the better life that she yearns for. As Lucy, Deborah Cox is beautiful, sexy, and convincing. She both steals and stops the show with her immaculate renditions of "Someone Like You" and "A New Life." Her "Bring on the Men" is wonderful, but the spider-web choreography limits her ability to move about the stage and really sell the song. My only complaint with Deborah Cox's performance is her use of the Cockney accent that fades in and out throughout the show. In my honest opinion, the use of Britsh accents is not necessary for this story. Audiences can believe it is in London without the accents, especially since not everyone uses them. Jeff Calhoun should have his company just drop the accents.
Playing Emma Carew, Teal Wicks brings her fantastically trained and elegant Broadway presence to the show and uses her technique to both characterize and differentiate her performance from the other two leads. Her delicate and poised singing voice is the perfect counter to Constantine Maroulis' raw edge. Teal Wicks is delightful and is supremely memorable in her expert renditions of "Take Me As I Am" and "In His Eyes."
The Board of Governors is adroitly malicious and each vocally blends with the others very well. They need to better enunciate the words in the first "Façade," but handle the reprises well. Likewise, some of "Murder" was garbled. Lord Savage, played by Brian Gallagher, and Lady Beaconsfield, played by Blair Ross, were my favorite in the performance. The reprise of "Façade" after "Murder" was strikingly haunting and the best performance they gave as a collective group.
The whole of the ensemble was enjoyable, delivering crisp vowels in their songs while performing a myriad of roles from London's upper crust to the bottom rung. As Lucy's friend and confidant, Dana Costello gave a wonderful performance as Nellie.
Tobin Ost's costume and set design was both minimal and inspired. The use of Steampunk elements was well thought out, especially the choice of keeping them off of Emma's costuming. This further illustrated Emma's purity by keeping her devoid of the darkness that is often associated with industrialization. Another place that this costuming was particularly effective was that it was uniform across the males of the Broad of Governor; each of them had zippers running the lengths of their out seams. The set pieces were stark, white brick walls at askew angles that were beautifully manipulated by the Daniel Brodie's magnificent projections to convey setting and action. This choice leant itself well to versatility and showed off the best that technology has to offer modern theatrical productions, especially in the murder of Lord Savage. Furthermore, the pieces were not beautiful or ornate, which added a harsh, ugly industrial feel to the performance that was mirrored in his costuming selections.
Lighting Design by Jeff Croiter is wonderfully atmospheric and adroitly uses color to convey and illustrate the emotion of each scene. It also makes the most of the rock and pop concert aesthetic.
Ken Travis' sound design is strong and well-mixed. The only moment that felt flawed was "Confrontation," as Constantine Maroulis' live moans as Jekyll were often at the same volume or louder than his canned Hyde performance, ultimately causing lyrics to be lost in a muddling of sound. However, the sound wasn't all that was muddled in "Confrontation." The scene as it stands now is worth seeing because you'll never see anything quite like it again on stage. With that said, I feel the scene is wholly confused and loses itself. The projected fireballs and multiple eyes are a lot to take in visually. This is all compounded with the rock vocals, and I'm not sure that the scene is performed as epically as the orchestrations and projections imply. A little more subtlety in production value may enhance the performance by allowing the audience to focus on Constantine Maroulis' dual performance. The projection of him as Hyde over the portrait of Henry Jekyll was a fantastic touch, and I'd like to see that stay, but some of the more over-the-top elements may need to be reworked or removed.
For me, this production was solid and worked really well. Yes, there were issues with enunciation, accents, and the over-stimulating "Confrontation" scene, but I sincerely enjoyed the show. In fact, I hope to see the production again. A highlight of the evening for me was getting to personally tell Frank Wildhorn that I loved the production as I was leaving the theatre. The concert vibe and dark industrial ambience heightened this new experience, allowing the audience to listen and connect to the powerful score and lyrics in a innovative and fresh way. The book, which seems relatively pared down from previous productions, moves smoothly and does not ever drag. The new JEKYLL & HYDE is grittier, edgier, and more sexualized than previous versions. The lush sensuality that existed before is replaced with a more animalistic and hedonistic drive, aligning the production with the contemporary zeitgeist. This is definitely a production for the young and young at heart. To truly enjoy and experience this version, you have to be open to the changes made and not compare it to its predecessors. It is truly a reinvented, revised, electric and exciting production-not a revival.
Theatre Under the Stars' Broadway bound production of Frank Wildhorn's JEKYLL & HYDE runs on the Sarofim Stage at the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts through October 21, 2012. For more information and tickets please visit http://www.tuts.com/ or call (713) 558 – 8887.
Deborah Cox and Company in "Bring on the Men." © Chris Bennion Photo.