Theatre Review by Matthew Murray - April 18, 2013
Jekyll & Hyde Conceived for the stage by Steve Cuden and Frank Wildhorn. Book and lyrics by Leslie Bricusse. Music by Frank Wildhorn. Directed and choreographed by Jeff Calhoun. Scenic & costume design by Tobin Ost. Lighting design by Jeff Croiter. Sound design by Ken Travis. Projection design by Daniel Brodie. Hair & wig design by Charles G. LaPointe. Orchestrations by Kim Scharnberg. Cast: Constantine Maroulis, Deborah Cox, also starring Teal Wicks, Laird Mackintosh, Richard White, Stephen Mitchell Brown, Jerry Christakos, Dana Costello, Wendy Fox, Brian Gallagher, Sean Jenness, Mel Johnson Jr., James Judy, Ashley Loren, Courtney Markowitz, Aaron Ramey, Emmy Raver-Lampman, Rob Richardson, Blair Ross, Doug Storm, Haley Swindal, Jason Wooten, and David Benoit as Bishop/Spider.
This infamous work, which began an almost-four-year Broadway run in 1997 but had spent years making its name on a lengthy tour (and with two concept recordings) before that, has inspired as much heated debate as it has earworms. (Go ahead, try to get its soaring, muddled anthem "This Is the Moment" out of your head once you've heard it, I dare you.) One side adores the show's rangy pop score and its racy pulp treatment of Robert Louis Stevenson's novel (and its film adaptations) about human emotional duality. Another sits, often aghast and agape, at its moldy pretensions, overwrought emotionalism, and undercooked-to-soggy book and lyrics.
Though I generally find myself occupying the latter camp, I cannot pretend that Wildhorn's compositions do not occasionally have their charms. Compared to Wildhorn's other recent musicals (Dracula, Wonderland, and Bonnie and Clyde, which ran a combined 226 performances), Jekyll & Hyde has a much more engaging (if rarely coherent) sound, and many of its songs, whether major or lesser, are more addictively melodic than most of today's musical theatre fare.
But watching this revival, which Jeff Calhoun is credited as directing and choreographing, I found myself wondering not just what I had ever mildly enjoyed about the original post-Broadway national tour (starring Chuck Wagner, for the record), but how anyone thought this could live off of disc (or, in modern parlance, Spotify). It's not that the story itself, about a desperate Doctor Henry Jekyll injecting himself with a serum that breaks off the evil portion into the sinister Edward Hyde, is not workable. It's that, without involvement of artists of the highest calibre on both sides of the footlights, it barely can even stand up.
Or, in this mounting, even be understood. Though I enjoyed Constantine Maroulis on American Idol and in his breakthrough stage role of Drew in Rock of Ages, his portrayals of both the title characters are vapid to the point of vacuum-like — a quality he hides behind an English accent so butchered and labored it would turn Henry Higgins into Jack the Ripper. So poor is his diction, in fact, that you can understand, at most, one out of every seven words Jekyll utters, which would admittedly be more of a tragedy if Bricusse did not use lines like "All that you are is the end of a nightmare / All that you are is a dying scream / After tonight I shall end this demon dream" in his lyrics.
Hyde sounds somewhat clearer, though the whispering grunt Maroulis has adopted as his "character voice" to accompany his scoliosis-baiting stoop are not, in themselves, inspiring. Throughout, however, Maroulis is in full concert mode, his stretched voice having the right ruddy yell for attacking the score, but employing the keening, back bends, and mimed microphone chomping moves that are more appropriate for a heavy-metal act than actually telling a story.
As Lucy, the, um, dancer with a heart of gold who finds herself torn between one man, Deborah Cox relies on a hard-bitten, weary cynicism that works in her bawdier opening scenes, but doesn't blossom into the transformational later ones. And though she brings a teasing bite to her numbers, which include "Someone Like You," "A New Life," and the pseudo-saucy "Bring on the Men," her singing lacks the weight and theatrical authority that might make them register as more than pop singles.
But that's always been the problem with Jekyll & Hyde, and most of Wildhorn's musicals, in general: The posing, posturing, and singing never cohere into drama beyond that of reaching the next stratospheric note. Or, to borrow from Bricusse and that darn "This Is the Moment" song again, "the dreaming, scheming, and screaming" never "become one."
They come close to doing so at only one point in the evening. Early in the second act, when Lucy's flame has been ignited and Emma is fearing that hers is being extinguished, the two women join forces on a duet about their shared lover's edifying gaze called "In His Eyes." It sparks some sense of human connection and longing that transcend the staid and hint at, for just a couple of minutes, the romantic promise inherent in the material.
Even so, it is staged, of course, in an undefined place, concerning emotions that, to that point, have barely been defined, between two characters we've been given no concrete reason to care about. If you're looking for the most representative instance of Jekyll & Hyde, whether the show itself or this production, well, this is the moment.