Sound Advice by Joseph Molnar
Jekyll & Hyde

The review of The Goodbye Girl London cast recording that I promised this week will be postponed till March 9th. Instead, in honor of the release of the original Broadway cast recording of The Scarlet Pimpernel, I bring you a special 2 part Sound Advice covering both of Frank Wildhorn's current Broadway productions. Since there were so many CD's to review, part one will cover Jekyll & Hyde and part two, coming next week, will cover The Scarlet Pimpernel.

Back in 1990, when Jekyll & Hyde made its debut as a concept recording of highlights from the show, I was excited as everyone else to hear a new musical by a new composer. Having only known its composer, Frank Wildhorn, from his one pop hit, "Where Do Broken Hearts Go?", which I like, I didn't know what to expect. What I had hoped for was a musical along the lines of Sweeney Todd, something dark and brooding. What I got instead were mostly generic romantic pop tunes that didn't seem to have any sense of drama or what time period this story was taking place in. They were sung by Colm "Valjean" Wilkinson and newcomer, Barbra Streisand sound a like, Linda Eder, who both possess a fine set of pipes. I felt the CD was a bit confusing as Ms. Eder sang both female leads of the hooker, Lucy and the fiancie, Lisa and there was no synopsis given of how the songs fit in the story. Although each of these songs is beautiful, I wondered how they would come together as a musical. I had my doubts.

Fast forward to 1994 when Jekyll & Hyde embarked on a national tour and Mr. Wildhorn decided he wanted to record another disc of songs from the score. He already had a contract with RCA, who released the first disc and asked them to do this new one. Since there were no definite plans for Broadway, they refused saying that there was already one recording out there and that the next recording should be with the Broadway cast, not a touring or studio one. So he went to Atlantic records who agreed to do a 2 disc set with Australian musical theater and opera star, Anthony Warlow in the dual lead role and Linda Eder returning to the role of Lucy. The rest of the characters were cast from the tour with guest stars John Raitt, Broadway legend, who was persuaded to record the role of Sir Danvers Carew, and R & B songstress/writer Brenda Russell in the small role of Nellie. This presented the songs as they were in the show and as a result, it had a much more theatrical sound to it. Despite the improvements, there were still too many pop songs that bogged down the score and stopped it dead in its tracks, in a bad way. "In His Eyes," "A New Life" and "Girls of the Night" are 3 of the most beautiful songs ever written for a musical but do little to further the story and work better out of context. Not only that, the orchestrations didn't help either, sounding like they belonged on a Celine Dion album. Plus there was the use of electronic music in some of the numbers. I am still trying to figure out why they did this, just what electronic music existed in the 1800s anyway? So my doubts have been proven true thus far.

By the time Jekyll & Hyde reached Broadway last season, they had acquired a new director, new sets, and dropped a few songs and characters along the way which tightened it up a bit. So what resulted is Jekyll & Hyde "lite", reduced and trimmed, but it is still bad for you with too many fillers and additives. Those additives being the generic "pop" ballads I mentioned above. Not only that, it also has the overall feeling of being choppy, like something is missing. I believe this is due to the fact that the authors could not make up their minds whether or not they wanted to write a pop opera or book musical. In addition, the secondary character of Lucy is given the most memorable songs and that is a problem, at least for me. It seems to throw the whole show off balance. The story is, after all, supposed to be about the torment Dr. Henry Jekyll is going through, not Lucy. His songs are mostly forgettable, with bad lyrics ("momentous moment"?) and he says the word "moment" no less than 12 times in his big song, "This is the Moment" which sounds like a Michael Bolton song. His only decent song is his duet with Emma, formerly Lisa, in the first act, "Take Me as I Am." Robert Cuccioli created the title dual role on Broadway and has a fine tenor voice, but at times it sounds forced and slightly off key. But his acting makes up for any flaws his voice may have and he makes each character distinct through the use of his voice. Mr. Wildhorn and Mr. Bricusse also seem to be hitting us over the head with this theme of good and evil in each one of us instead of concentrating on clarifying the story. Songs like "Facade" and "Good 'n' Evil" are just 2 examples of that. Speaking of "Good 'n' Evil" by the way, it has to be one of the worst songs I have ever heard written for a Broadway musical, it sounds like second rate Weill and Brecht and is inferior to "Bring on the Men" which it replaced. "Bring on the Men" also gave the score a much-needed break. Everything is so heavy up until that point that the song was a welcome change. Mr. Wildhorn also seems to reuse music over and over again in this show. This is especially bad since it is not a pop opera and not everything in the show is sung and the repetition of the music makes listening to the CD a chore at times. I am a firm believer that that each and every piece of music should be written for a specific situation or moment in time and that once it has passed, should not be repeated. Mr. Bricusse's lyrics on the whole seem to be too generic and not specific to the characters enough. There are far too many things wrong with this piece to get into it here so much so that I could write a whole thesis on it. Suffice it to say that most of these songs sound better if you just listen to them as individual songs and not as a theater piece. Despite all this, it is still playing to packed houses on Broadway and probably will continue to do so. This score seems to appeal to those who grew up on such pop operas as Les Miserables, The Phantom of the Opera and Miss Saigon except I believe even these three are more dramatic than Jekyll & Hyde.

So unless you want to listen to nice music and not a theatrical score then I suggest you go out and buy any of these. You will find some lovely melodies and some fine performances from the cast, most notably Christianne Noll as Emma in the Broadway cast recording, Anthony Warlow in the lead on the 2 disc set and, of course, Linda Eder, who shines like a gem, on any of these recordings.

Jekyll & Hyde has recently become the latest musical to be recorded by a jazz group. The Steve Goodman Trio has reinterpreted 8 of Mr. Wildhorn's best tunes from the show. I am not a huge jazz fan, but I sometimes find these recordings fun to listen to. One or two of the tunes are unrecognizable, as Mr. Goodman tends to veer from the melody too much. The best tunes on this disc are "Once Upon a Dream," "Seduction," "No One Knows Who I Am," "If You Came Into My Life," and "A New Life." Not so surprisingly, Mr. Wildhorn's music sounds much better divorced from their pop arrangements and Mr. Bricusse's mundane lyrics. This CD shows off his music beautifully displaying his intricate melodies. So I must say this CD is very enjoyable on the whole and is worth picking up. Mr. Goodman, who plays the piano, is assisted by fellow band members Bruce Kaminsky on bass and Bruce Klauber on drums who add to the enjoyment of this disc.

Soundbytes: On March 24th, MCA/Universal will be releasing a "25th Anniversary re-mastered edition" of the Jesus Christ Superstar soundtrack. They are also expecting to remaster the movie in THX sound and release it for the first time in letterbox format on videocassette. In other related Lloyd Webber news, the soundtrack for the Cats video has been postponed; it "may be" out in April or May, with the video "possibly" showing up in June or July.

Forthcoming from First Night records are the original London cast of Stepping Out, the new West End hit currently at the Albery. Also on their schedule is Saturday Night, Stephen Sondheim's first ever musical (never available on record), the new production at the Bridewell Theatre.

Look for Dress Circle to release a "live" recording by Australian diva, Judi Connelli sometime in February.

Flaherty and Ahren's first animated film Anastasia will be released on videocassette on April 28. It will be available in both widescreen and pan and scan versions.

News from RCA Victor: They have announced that they will definitely be recording the Roundabout Theater's new production of Cabaret with a tentative release date set for May 19th. They are also recording the revival cast album of The Sound of Music also scheduled for release on the same date. The label will also issue a highlights disc of John Yap's studio version of Cabaret (reviewed in my last column), but not until later this year -- perhaps as late as winter. The "cast album" of Forever Tango (double CD) is still scheduled for February 24th, but both Ragtime (double CD) and the Paper Mill Playhouse Children of Eden (double CD and highlights disc) cast albums have been re-scheduled for April 28.

Unfortunately, the London cast album of Chicago is off, for the present. Apparently Ruthie Henshall recently signed a contract with PolyGram, which is asking more money than BMG is willing to pay for her services on the recording. If they can't come to terms before Henshall leaves the show in April (when her six-month contract expires), the album may be done with her replacement (rumored to be Kathryn Evans, of the recent The Fix).

Join me next week when I take a look at Frank Wildhorn's latest musical to hit Broadway, The Scarlet Pimpernel. 'Til then, happy listening!

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