Frank Wildhorn’s Jekyll & Hyde
Needless to say, Jekyll & Hyde has undergone many a transformation since its birth several eons ago at Houston’s Alley Theatre, the think-tank of choice for several of Wildhorn’s musicals. Throughout these mutations, the show has gained more than a few, shall we say, ardent admirers (‘Jekkies’) who have helped to propel it to the level of popularity which it enjoys today. So, at the suggestion (read: gun-to-your-head demand) of a Jekkie friend, I saw the show in New York last Christmas (it was a fairly underwhelming, not to mention quite odd, experience). However, I managed to view the new ‘Broadway Tour’ with a completely open mind, and I was actually surprised at what a difference a year can make . . .
The Wildhorn/Leslie Bricusse (Victor/Victoria) score is as exasperating as ever, positively riddled with saccharine pop ballads and gung-ho anthems; and if that were not enough, the composing team attempts to address the ills of Victorian society in tandem, making for an embarrassing, self-righteous hodgepodge of a score. If the songs perhaps sound pleasant upon first listen, all novelty wears thin by the sixty-fifth or so reprise.
At matinee performances, the title roles are taken over from star Chuck Wagner by alternate Brian Noonan, who unfortunately is unable to make his character(s) the least bit interesting. Despite a fine job in the vocal department, Noonan seems to have no touch with the emotional undercurrent of the story, giving a rather superficial and lacking performance.
The other stars fare considerably better. Sharon Brown (see my interview with Sharon) is a Godsend as ‘Lucy.’ Her bodice-ripping, campy showstopper “Bring on the Men” delivers one the show’s few titillating moments. Miss Brown somehow manages to overcome the show’s pervasive lack of characterization and create a genuinely sympathetic and living, breathing character. Andrea Rivette (‘Emma Carew’) does a fine job, but she can’t escape the transparent nature of her role. James Clow (‘Utterson’) and Dennis Kelley (‘Sir Danvers Carew’) help to redeem the male portion of the leading cast by giving admirable and refreshingly downplayed performances.
Direction by David Warren varies. His slight rearrangements of the original Broadway version add a definite clarity to the integral story line, but with all the kitsch flying about, it is almost undetectable, thus abetting my belief that it truly is a fine line between a good musical and a bad.
Jeykll & Hyde, starring Chuck Wagner, Sharon Brown, and Andrea Rivette, featuring James Clow, Brian Noonan, Robin Haynes, Bertilla Baker, and Dennis Kelley. Music by Frank Wildhorn, book and lyrics by Leslie Bricusse. Costumes by Ann Curtis, scenic design by James Noone, and lighting by Beverly Emmons. Choreography by Jerry Mitchell. Directed by David Warren. Jekyll & Hyde is a presentation of the Mastercard Broadway Series of Atlanta.