BWW Reviews: JEKYLL AND HYDE - "The Only Thing Constant is Change"
Many things about this production are different from the original musical version which began with a concept recording in 1990 and evolved into a Broadway musical production that opened April of 1997 delivering 1543 shows then ending its Broadway life in January 2001. But it was far from over, moving forward gathering a plethora of loyal "Jekkie" fans, several tours and international productions.
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde the legendary horror novella written by Robert Louis Stevenson in the 1800's is the source material for this bold adventure. Transferring this from novel to film is one thing. Turning this well known piece of work into a staged musical however is a daunting challenge that has resulted in good and not so good elements. How do you take something so dark and complex, set it to appropriate music, bring in a convincing cast and decide whether you want to scare the daylights out of of your audience or entertain them... or both? The creative team of Leslie Bricusse (book & lyrics), Frank Wildhorn (co-conceiver and music), Steve Cuden (co-conceiver) took a leap of faith when they turned this into a staged musical that they felt had all the elements of emotion, passion, darkness and even a bit of campy humor. When it opened on Broadway it was received with wildly mixed reviews which in turn sparked an influx of curious theater goers, some who have seen and supported the show so often they are called the "jekkies".
Composer, Frank Wildhorn has penned some arguably beautiful songs for many productions and people. Jekyll and Hyde boasts "A New Life", "Someone Like You" and "This is the Moment" which have been performed and sung by some very popular people in some very prestigious settings.
However this newest "revisal" production of Jekyll and Hyde has been for the most part aimed to attract a new, younger audience and molded to fit its leading man and lady. What better choice than American Idol finalist Constantine Maroulis? Maroulis already a popular Broadway star (Rock of Ages, Wedding Singer, RENT), works hard to fill the shoes for this edgy, musically re-orchestrated version. Maroulis does everything possible to convince the crowd that he is not a sexy rock star to the point of sporting some bookworm glasses and a thick British accent as Dr. Jekyll. In fact the accent is quite good. However the minuet he opens his mouth to sing the rock side screams through loud and clear. Director Jeff Calhoun and set/costume designer Tobin Ost make the most of what they have and develop a rock star environment with all the flash, funk and shock factor to create a Tim Burton style nightmare for the sultry star to show his talents and ability.
One of his female attractions in the show is R&B, gospel Grammy winning Deborah Cox who plays Lucy Harris the sweet/tough prostitute looking for "A New Life" and the right man to take her there. She does her best to lure Henry Jekyll but inevitably ends up with the evil, violent Edward Hyde. Cox is a great casting choice as the sexy bad girl who proves she can knock out Wildhorn's score as well as some of her formidable predecessors. Cox's vocal style is raspy and flutters breathlessly but she delivers the power when needed even if it means she comes out of character and into concert mode a few times, which detracts a bit from her character. But she is not alone in that department.
The slightly underwritten role of Dr. Jekyll's long-suffering bride-to-be, Emma Carew is played beautifully by Teal Wick who played Wicked's Elphaba on Broadway and brings a legitimate Broadway voice to the role. The creative team has toughened up this prim and proper Victorian lady to the point that she refers to her self as the "crazy angel" which seems a bit odd for the era, but this is not the conventional show that opened on Broadway. Unfortunately there is little chemistry between the good doctor and his fiancé throughout the show.
The lovely duet "In His Eyes" sung by Cox and Wick is very well performed and received one of the few most rousing rounds of applause.
The truth is that the success of Jekyll and Hyde in any form of film or stage has always hinged heavily on the acting and /or vocal strength of its leading man to transform from Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde with a sense of responsibility to each character as they develop and evolve. The same original creative team began the casting of the pre-Broadway production by brining in Broadway actor/singers such as Robert Cucciolo, Rob Evan and Chuck Wagner each playing this exhausting role for a year or more. From there they went on to "star casting" bigger names with little to no Broadway experience such as soap opera's Jack Wagner to rock star Sebastian Bach to film/music star David Hasslehoff with varying popularity and box office results.
Eleven years later Wildhorn's beloved "Jekyll" looks to find a younger audience appeal. It's not surprising that they would choose someone as well suited as Constantine with his built in fan base and the likelihood that this would create a new generation of supporters.
Maroulis admitted that he has never seen the staged musical and that he "tried not to get caught up in the character work" according to a Broadwayworld.com interview back in October. However it might have been a wise choice if this talented rock star had focused a bit more on character insight and development of both personas rather than his ability and instincts to act and sing through this dual power role.
He brings a very jittery, rushed, uneasy Dr. Jekyll missing several romantic moments with his bride to be and a Mr. Hyde that is simply wild, driven with little sense of direction killing people at a maddening pace while screaming out reprises of the song "Alive". His money song "This is The Moment" is bombastic, which is no problem for this rock star who also comes out of character to exercise his vocal abilities at any given time.
In an attempt to reinvent the show to fit the cast and a younger audience, Tony nominated director Jeff Calhoun and set designer Tobin Ost lean toward a gothic, darker, bigger is better, shock factor that has the audience scrambling as to what to expect or look at next. This might have been an appealing way to keep the crowd on The Edge of their seats of this thriller had they made different choices. The lab scene with its sprawling giant spider- like colored tubes of life altering liquids looks more like a Jiffy Lube Center. The distressed doctor hooking up to the magical infusions by attaching a collar to his neck in a very Frankenstein -style is a far cry from anything in the novel such as drinking a potion or injecting a needle. Apparently the focus here is on special effects and a Sci-fi appeal.
Among the cast are the "distinguished" board of Governors of St. Jude's Hospital who decline Dr. Jekyll's plea of using an asylum "volunteer" for his experimental drugs to cure evil. The Board is indeed a spectacle in themselves in their introductory scene as they appear, in all shapes and sizes I might add, in their underwear "larger than life" in some cases, singing as they are being dressed; an odd choice of getting attention to the fact that perhaps they are not what they appear to be.
Another interesting option is the decision to follow the Spider's Web Saloon theme by presenting a circus-like exhibition of colored bungee cords attached to male patrons who are pulled in by the prostitutes for the occasional enticements as if they are the captors of the female spiders. This serves as the introduction of Lucy Harris to Henry Jekyll who is there for a gentlemen's night out before his engagement party.
The most attention-grabbing and quite effective use of sets would be the final confrontation between the dual personalities of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde which collide in Jekyll's pallor as the ever present giant set panels are filled with cartoon-like images of Edward Hyde in his angry battle with Dr.Jekyll - a real scream fest for both.
The creative team hopes this revisal or reincarnation will be popular among a younger crowd, special effects enthusiasts and those who never had the opportunity to see the original musical production.
Jekyll & Hyde plays from Dec. 26 - 30 at the Forrest Theatre in Philadelphia. Tickets can be purchased by calling 800-447-7400, online at telecharge.com