Due to work obligations, I couldn’t make press opening of the national tour of Jekyll & Hyde, which is set for a Broadway revival following a two-week Chicago engagement. So, I turned the review reins over to my dear friend, and book blogger celebrity, Jamie Prahl, to review. Here’s what she had to say:
Simply put, Frank Wildhorn and Leslie Bricusse’s Jekyll & Hyde isn’t a very good musical.
Yet, since the show’s debut as a 1990 concept album, it has gained die-hard fans (called “Jekkies”) and been produced around the world despite the fact that it’s a show with serious issues.
Jekyll & Hyde obviously strives to be a sweeping gothic musical romance a la The Phantom of the Opera. Based loosely on Robert Louis Stevenson’s novella, “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” the plot possesses everything that should be needed to build a great piece of theater. In Victorian England, Dr. Henry Jekyll has discovered a chemical combination that can separate the good and evil parts of a person. When the snooty and hypocritical Board of Governors refuses his request to test the potion one of the poor souls left to die in the city’s asylums, Jekyll takes matters into his own hands and becomes his own test subject, launching his demented and murderous alter-ego Edward Hyde onto the streets of London. As Jekyll and Hyde take control of the same man, an alluring prostitute enters the mix, and Jekyll’s life, including his future with his loving fiancee, is thrown into chaos.
Murder! Romance! Chemistry! Prostitutes! What else do you need? Unfortunately, Wildhorn and Bricusse’s version of Jekyll & Hyde is burdened by a book that fails in building any sense of danger, some downright terrible lyrics, and a score distractingly heavy on easy listening power-ballads.
When I walked in to opening night of new pre-Broadway production, I thought maybe this production would have magically solved all the problems of the show and turned it into a respectable dame.
Director Jeff Calhoun and his assembled creative team have instead attempted to gloss over the faults of the show with a stylish remount. Per a man sitting near me, they “really ramped up the Rock and Roll stuff.” I assume he was referring to the copious use of fog, the black eyeliner all the male ensemble members seemed to be wearing, and the maid uniforms that weren’t too far removed from dominatrix gear. As a suggestion to the producers, perhaps the seedy glamor of Las Vegas would be a more suitable home for this musical than Broadway.
The cast does their very best. Jekyll/Hyde is a massive and challenging role, but American Idol finalist turned Tony-nominated Broadway performer Constantine Maroulis is eager and energetic and an undeniably powerful singer. He sings the heck out of his numerous songs, every one of which seems to end with a soaring nigh note. Unfortunately, Maroulis is saddled with a script that lacks any real depth. (Also, his accent could use some work. I’m still not entirely sure if Henry Jekyll is supposed to be English, Irish, or German. The show’s accents, as a rule, are shaky and inconsistent.)
In the hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold role of Lucy, Canadian R&B singer Deborah Cox is obviously vocally worthy of standing in the shoes of a role created by/for Linda Eder, but her performance lacks any passion or urgency. When the terrifying Hyde enters Lucy’s life, she simply doesn’t seem that alarmed. She loves Jekyll enough to sing about him, but when he tells her to leave London immediately because her life is in danger, she only seems mildly pleased at the idea of leaving the brothel behind and slowly packs while, of course, singing a giant ballad. (Spoiler: I couldn’t help thinking that if she’d packed a little faster and skipped the song, she’d have survived the show.)
Completing the show’s central love triangle is Wicked veteran Teal Wicks as Emma, Jekyll’s plucky high society fiancee. Wicks is radiant, and possesses a voice every bit worthy of her two higher-billed co-stars. I must also call out Laird Mackintosh and Richard White for offering strong support, despite their thankless roles.
Jeff Calhoun’s direction is occasionally shaky, as is most evident when the show’s two leading ladies belt one of the show’s most famous anthems, “In His Eyes.” To their credit, Wicks and Cox deliver the vocal pyrotechnics despite staging that has them weirdly wandering around 2/3 of the stage. The big production number, “Bring on the Men,” lacks any oomph and, despite being set in a brothel, isn’t actually sexy.
Historically, the climactic “Confrontation” sequence is done with the leading actor battling himself as both Jekyll and Hyde. In this outing, a giant video of Hyde is projected behind Maroulis as Jekyll, who argues with it. Maroulis does everything he can, but it just doesn’t work — which is a pretty good summary of this show in general. There’s only so many talented singers you can hire, so much fog you can pump into a theater, and so much black eyeliner you can put on a sub-par show.
“Jekyll & Hyde” plays through March 24 at the Cadillac Palace Theatre. More info here >