BWW Reviews: Revamped Broadway-Bound JEKYLL & HYDE Makes Hollywood Debut
Now in the final stretches of its 25-week national tour before ultimately making its sit-down Broadway transfer later this Spring, the brand-new, revamped revival of JEKYLL & HYDE - THE MUSICAL---which began life nearby at the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts back in September 2012---has finally returned to Southern California for the next few weeks, this time playing performances at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood through March 3.
JEKYLL & HYDE's origins began at the Alley Theatre in 1990 from a stage concept by Steve Cuden and the musical's composer Frank Wildhorn (which in turn was inspired by Robert Louis Stevenson's novella The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde). It was then later remounted on Broadway at the Plymouth Theatre in 1997. The Broadway production, despite mixed reviews, became a surprise hit, earning four Tony nominations and running for an impressive 1,500-plus performances, gaining fans primarily for its anthemic, emotionally-grandiose music (its showy, swelling songs like "A New Life" and "This Is the Moment" have arguably become musical theater staples among belt-happy singers and karaoke enthusiasts).
For me personally, the show (at least the versions I've experienced first-hand or via electronically-beamed visuals) has always been a genuinely intriguing idea that is, unfortunately, plagued by an overwrought, "everything-including-the-kitchen-sink" mentality. Thus, the show overall often leaves me feeling both pummeled and perplexed---though not enough to have me running out the door in a huff.
But truth be told, JEKYLL & HYDE's saving grace for me has always been the sprinkling of memorable songs I enjoy listening to, especially when placed in the throats of talented, big-voiced singers. And, yes, I can even wholeheartedly admit that I really like the way some actors belt the crap out of them (and, boy, do they do that here). But slightly like the conflicting mental struggle of its central character---though considerably less murderous---this show makes me feel torn... somewhere between an acceptable like and an ambivalent meh. So, the prospect of a new vision for this show is always cause for optimism.
And from what I can deduce from this new revival's Opening Night performance last Tuesday, there seems to be a concerted---and, sure, well-meaning---effort to try to re-jigger the show's cheesy, overstuffed theatricality and make this topsy-turvy musical as entertainingly palatable to as broad an audience as possible... well, at least to an audience that likes their musical theater as loud as an arena rock concert and as visually arresting as an expensive Vegas spectacular. Of course, there's nothing wrong with this kind of distraction theater; some work, some do not, and some are even a hoot.
For this iteration of JEKYLL & HYDE---helmed by director/choreographer Jeff Calhoun (Newsies, Bonnie & Clyde)---the narrative seems, thankfully, more simplified and streamlined than ever before. But everything else has been turned up, volume-wise, creating a show that's even more about sensory overload. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the X-Box Live version of JEKYLL & HYDE!
These extra-amplified distractions of nifty high-tech theatrical effects (oooh, look at those giant test tubes with color-changing bubbly water!), more modernized pop/rock orchestrations, and ovation-worthy, slam-dunk singing---the efforts of which, I must stress again, I do genuinely appreciate---all can't quite erase how frustratingly flawed this show has always been and perhaps always will be.
Though many songs have been reworked or rearranged in the lineup, and generous cuts were made in the rather dense book by Leslie Bricusse (who also provided lyrics to much of the songs), the musical's basic story remains intact: set in 19th Century London, it follows awkward nerd genius Dr. Henry Jekyll (Tony nominee Constantine Maroulis), a "mad scientist" (well, a timid one) whose driving quest is to find a way to chemically rid people of evil, crazy tendencies (much like the cray-cray he senses in himself and his institutionalized Papa---the latter seen at the top of show wiggling inside a straight jacket).It was a nice try, though. And, hey, at least I upgraded from a shrugging meh before to, now, a resounding, hmmm... that turned out... only okay... but, wow, those singers really, really kicked ass on these songs even more this time!
While his intense work fills his days, his personal life seems to be going alright: he just got engaged to the lovely, very supportive Emma Carew (the gorgeous Teal Wicks), whose loyalty to his smarty pants fiancé seems unbreakable. But soon, after the Board of Governors of St. Jude's hospital refuses Jekyll's plea to test his experiments on actual human subjects, the obsessed doctor breaks protocol and decides to test his "cure" on himself in secret. Uh oh.
Jekyll's continued self-administration of his "magic" elixir quickly ushers his rapid descent into raging madness, which manifests itself in the form of an evil alter-ego named Edward Hyde (Maroulis, this time sans ponytail and glasses), who likes his hair down and his women submissive. Powered by revenge, a new-found bravura, and pure, unfiltered evil, the guy overtakes Jekyll's personality and starts a murderous spree, specifically targeting the rich snobs that make up the Board of Governors that so rudely refused his earlier proposal. Along the way, Hyde starts a sexual, torturous "relationship" with Lucy Harris (the impressive Deborah Cox) the most coveted, um, "dancer" at the Red Rat nightclub (who, um, has no idea Jeckyll and Hyde are same dude).
Structured like a manic stadium-friendly rock concert peppered with a few talking bits, a neat, morphing set highlighted with projections, and ornate period costumes in between songs, this new JEKYLL & HYDE's ultimate priority is to move the show forward ---to get to one showstopping song after another. Granted, there is enough here to make it entertaining, but the non-musical parts feel like throw-away scenes. But, c'mon... seriously though, these singers are jaw-droppingly good, particularly the show's three major leads who are nothing short of phenomenal. But the question now becomes... is the terrific singing talent enough reason to warrant seeing the show?
Suffice it to say, the retooled show certainly looks and feels like it had lots of work done, but the seams of their labor appear to be buckling under the stress of its weight. All of this feverish patchwork, though, is a valiant enough effort that somewhat makes the show less frustrating to follow, but also exposes the idea that we may be collectively staying only to hear the musical talents of its ensemble cast.
As Lucy, Grammy nominated R&B/Dance sensation Cox is a revelation. Sexy, feisty, and even at times believably vulnerable, I am truly happy to see her doing musical theater. She is without a doubt an enjoyable, marvelous performer that deftly adds a fresh spin on her character's well-known tunes with just a hint of pop sensibility. She pretty much had me in giddy delight right from her introductory song "Bring On The Men." And her take on "A New Life" is officially one of my favorite versions of the song (and, yes, there is a part of me that can't wait until they release a dance remix of it). That said, the ultimate high-point of the show is her riveting, standing-o-worthy duet with the more theater-honed Wicks on "In His Eyes." Dramatic, dynamic, and divalicious, the moment they shared on that song totally gives the show a much-needed pause for a Wow.
And in the dual role of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the intriguing Maroulis---who first gained national fame as a finalist on the fourth season of American Idol---brings his booming-to-the-rafters rock star vocals to the dueling roles and pretty much shakes the foundation of the theater with every song. Though the split personalities of Jekyll and Hyde are the macabre opposite(s) of his more jovial work on ROCK OF AGES (which garnered him a Tony nod), I am still honestly astonished at the stamina and power this guy conjures to produce his strong, belty voice for eight shows a week as he similarly has here (actually, he may actually be even louder in this show). While his character's accent(s) are certainly its own curiosity, I can definitely see why his specific musical stylings have been recruited for this rebooted musical's new stadium-rock direction.
All in all, while this Vegas-style extravaganza's changes are swathed in good intentions, very little---not even its trio of awesome lead singers---can truly eradicate the show's laughably grandiose histrionics, its weak book, and that inescapable cheese-factor.
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Photos by Chris Bennion courtesy of the Pantages Theatre.
Performances of the pre-Broadway National Tour of JEKYLL & HYDE at the Pantages Theatre continue through March 3 and are scheduled Tuesday through Friday at 8 pm, Saturdays at 2 pm and 8 pm, and Sundays at 1pm and 6:30pm.
Tickets can be purchased online at www.BroadwayLA.org, by phone at 1-800-982-ARTS(2787) or in person at the Pantages box office (opens daily at 10am) and all Ticketmaster outlets.
The Pantages Theatre is located at 6233 Hollywood Boulevard, just east of Vine Street.
For more information, please visit www.BroadwayLA.org.