Like its tortured protagonist, the Leslie Bricusse/Frank Wildhom musical Jekyll & Hyde, is full of dual and conflicting identities that are at war with each other. Is it a popera musical, with soaring ballads like "This is the Moment," or is it an R&B/rock-driven musical with songs like "Bring on the Men?" Is the set literal, like the cozy fireplace parlor of Dr. Jekyll or representational, like the gigantic web that ensnares the clients of Spider, who runs the depraved nightclub where women rent their charms?
The story is so well known that the phrase Jekyll and Hyde has come into common usage to describe someone who can be nice at one moment and crabby the next. The original 1886 novella by Robert Louis Stevenson, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, was an allegorical story about the good and evil that exists in all of us. Jekyll's serum was meant to banish the evil but, instead, turned it into another personality, Mr. Hyde. The only problem was that being the Victorian-restrained Jekyll couldn't compare to the unrestrained horrors of Hyde and the transformations started happening without the aid of the serum. Finally, killing himself was the only way that Jekyll could rid the world of Hyde. The popular theory is that Stevenson was doing some serious drugs when he wrote it, and that is not too hard to believe.
The show, presented as part of the AT&T Performing Arts Center's Lexus Broadway series, is a revival of the original 1997 musical, currently on a national tour before opening on Broadway in April. The original had a successful, if financially disappointing run on Broadway about four years. This production is under the direction and choreography of Tony Award nominee Jeff Calhoun, who also directed the current Broadway hit, Newsies.
The duality that is at the core of the show is perfectly illustrated by the music and the casting of the two women in the life of Jekyll/Hyde. His ever-so-sweet and proper fiancée, Emma Carew, is played by the cool and refined Teal Wicks, who has a lovely operatic-style voice. The nightclub singer/prostitute Lucy, is played by the red hot R&B singer Deborah Cox. Emma wears Victorian dresses buttoned up to her chin with a bustle in the back. Lucy wears a bustier with nothing in the back. Lucy puts out. Emma doesn't. No wonder why Hyde hates going back to Jekyll.
As the multi-personality title part, Constantine Maroulis, who received a Best Actor Tony nomination and a Drama League nomination for his performance in Broadway's Rock of Ages, takes the honors. He was a finalist on the fourth season of American Idol. He has a strong baritenor singing voice and serviceable acting chops. A friend said that watching his face through binoculars greatly improved his impression of Maroulis' performance, because you could see every emotion in his face.
For the rest of us, without that close up, his transformation mostly happened in his hair. As Jekyll, he wore a ponytail and as Hyde he let his locks flow like the cover drawing on a lurid romance novel. Of course, there is no way that a stage production can turn the handsome and lithe actor into the misshaped thug that Stevenson describes, with the evil taking on a horrible exterior. Maroulis tries to be shrunken and meek and Jekyll and as big as he can get as Hyde, but the Count Chocula manic laugh is more comical than evil.
The remainders of the cast are all fine in their parts, with Laird Mackintosh as John Utterson and Richard White as Sir Danvers Carew being standouts. One nice touch, that continued the duality concept, was to have David Benoit playing the despicable and hypocritical Bishop and well as the slimy and repulsive Spider. However, all of the other characters are just there to move the creaky plot along, which has no resemblance to the Stevenson novella, and lets the three principals strut their stuff. Diction was generally good, considering the fuzz that amplification always adds. However, the chorus was unintelligible on opening night.
One missed opportunity is in the duet between the two women, "In His Eyes." While this is one of the best numbers in the show, Emma's music is not much different from Lucy's R&B belting as the number rises to his conclusion. Keeping Emma in operatic mode, soaring over Lucy's driven chest voice, would have given us a duet in which the completely opposite personalities of the two women would have offered as stark a musical contrast as the visual one. A good opera composer would have never let such a golden opportunity to write in two styles at once pass by.
The costumes by Tobin Ost do a lot to create the Victorian era. His sets rely on projections and panels that either roll or fly in. Jekyll's laboratory is the only failure. We are so used to seeing mad scientist's labs with all kinds of weird paraphernalia that the simple row of bubbling canisters of liquid, which only change color, seems silly. Also, he transfuses the serum by the unlikely method of sticking a hose from the canisters to a collar and wrist brace.
In the end, Jekyll and Hyde fails because, like Jekyll himself, it tries to be two things at once. One the one hand, it strives to be the serious Victorian period piece with the heavy and oppressive atmosphere of a prim old lady's overstuffed drawing room. On the other, it tries to be edgy and cutting edge with opium dream projections and canted set pieces. Jekyll's transformation to Hyde seemed smaller than the switch from Jekyll's parlor to Spider's lair.
◊ Click here to read our Q&A with Constantine Maroulis and Deborah Cox.