A theatrical production must inform audiences what they're about to see and, ideally, waste little time doing so. In Frank Wildhorn's musical “Jekyll & Hyde,” we quickly learn that Dr. Henry Jekyll has been experimenting with the idea of trying to separate the good and evil that co-exist in everyone's personality.
Rebuffed by his hospital's board of governors after seeking permission to experiment on a patient, Jekyll takes matters into his own hands and declares that he'll subject himself to some potentially dangerous trials.
Unfortunately, “Jekyll & Hyde” delivers another 45 minutes of exposition before Jekyll ever begins his experiment. That comes as no surprise to those of us who have followed this musical's troubled journey, one that has seen countless revisions over the years. It took seven years for this musical to reach Broadway, only to be greeted with less than enthusiastic reviews.
American Idol finalist Constantine Maroulis, Grammy nominee Deborah Cox and Teal Wicks head a national touring production that is being presented locally by Celebrity Attractions. Directed by Jeff Calhoun, this version features a narrative that still gets bogged down in Leslie Bricusse's lumbering book.
And yet, there are flashes of inspiration that dare anyone to remain unaffected by this gothic melodrama, most notably when the meek and unassuming Jekyll (Maroulis) is transformed into the menacing and unpredictable Edward Hyde.
Maroulis handles this duality so successfully that one could easily be fooled into thinking there are two actors performing the musical's title characters. When Maroulis removes the tie that keeps Jekyll's hair in an unobtrusive ponytail, his alter ego's flowing locks are flipped back to reveal the sinister Hyde.
I was reminded of Ben Brantley's comment in The New York Times review of the 1997 Broadway production. “If there were a Tony award for best use of a head of hair, it would definitely go to Mr. (Robert) Cuccioli,” or, in this production, Maroulis. It's an eerie sight that is not soon forgotten thanks to Maroulis' complete investment in his characters.
The Boston Conservatory-trained Maroulis also possesses a fine voice that he intelligently shades to reveal the nuances of Jekyll and Hyde's personalities. The actor delivers an impassioned “This Is the Moment” when Jekyll begins his dangerous journey, but it's Maroulis' skillful acting that completes the transformation.
His deft ability to surprise the viewer with an unexpected entrance or an understated but compelling use of quiet terror makes Hyde a truly frightening sight. He's part Bill Sikes, part Sweeney Todd, two men you wouldn't want to meet in a dark alley.
Wicks has the unenviable task of playing Jekyll's fiancee Emma Carew, a role the authors didn't flesh out with the same expertise they did with the musical's title characters. But Wicks delivers the lovely ballad “Once Upon a Dream” with skill, in spite of an odd orchestration.
As the singer at a seedy club called “The Spider's Web,” Cox's Lucy Harris offers a nice blend of seduction and fearful desperation, the latter evident in her encounters with Hyde. In the aptly titled “Dangerous Game,” Cox and Maroulis perform a number that is both sexually charged and perilous.
“In His Eyes,” a power ballad in which Wicks and Cox dream wistfully about their characters' relationships with Jekyll and Hyde respectively, is a lovely duet that they unfortunately try to oversell. And while Cox can't compete vocally with Broadway's original Lucy (Linda Eder), she reminds us that Wildhorn's “Someone Like You” deserves its distinction as a classic anthem.
Richard White makes the most of his limited stage time as Emma's father Sir Danvers Carew, with David Benoit, Laird Mackintosh, Jason Wooten, Brian Gallagher, Aaron Ramey, Blair Ross and Mel Johnson, Jr. handling the production's secondary roles with confidence.
Tobin Ost's attractive set design conveys both the mysterious and gloomy laboratory in which Jekyll conducts his experiments, and the London underworld that is home to “The Spider's Web.” For those who may be unfamiliar with the story, particularly its frequent flirtations with murder and the musical's surprising ending, I'll not offer a spoiler alert.
Suffice it to say that “Jekyll & Hyde” is destined to remain a flawed musical that its huge fan base known as Jekkies happily choose to disregard. But when a musical can deliver no less than a quartet of musical hits (“This Is the Moment,” “Someone Like You,” “Once Upon a Dream” and “A New Life”), and, in the case of this production, a stellar talent such as Constantine Maroulis, one would be foolhardy to dismiss it entirely. It's a position that so many other troubled musicals would happily envy.
— Rick Rogers