“Jekyll and Hyde”, a Dull Kind of Madness

Jekyll & Hyde”, the pop-rock-musical version of Robert Louis Stevenson’s famous novel about a doctor who tries to separate good from evil and instead runs afoul of evil inside himself in the horrific person of Edward Hyde, may have been a grand guignol. It’s an entertaining novel, but it’s a strange sort of musical.

The show—now on a road trip before returning to Broadway from whence it came—has its own problem with schizophrenia or even multiple personalities in terms of being a musical. First of all, it’s been redone in terms of some new songs added, another repositioned and restaged, all of which may be fine, but we’re going to go with what we saw at the Kennedy Center’s Opera House having seen nothing else except an old Spencer Tracy movie version of the novel.

As contemporary musical entertainment, this production delivers to what appears to be a loyal fan base, conjuring up a good deal of spectacle and imaginative staging, plus the added attraction of a high-powered and top-drawer cast. The problem is not in the stars—which includes Constantine Meroulis (a runner-up on the fourth American Idol series) pop and r&b star Deborah Cox and the terrifically gifted Teal Wicks (Elphaba in “Wicked”). The problem is that the production, originally conceived as a concept album starring Colm Wilkes and Linda Eder, before going to Broadway where it ran for several years, even with the tinkering still seems derivative of other shows—there’s a whiff of “Les Miz”here and there, and stronger in terms of look and feel, “Phantom of the Opera”, and who knows, arena rock shows in some of its music and singing.

“Jekyll & Hyde”—conceived by Frank Wildhorn, with book and lyrics by Leslie Bricusse, music by Frank Wildhorn and direction by Jeff Calhoun—certainly knocks your eyes out in horror-movie fashion and with up-to-the-minute staging stuff—a scene in which Hyde and Jekyll occupy the stage at the same time makes use of video technology, as opposed to what used to involve the shaking of long hair.

It seems to me that the music is what passes for much too much Broadway composing these days—it’s made for voices who have learned to hold a note, complete with vibrato for a durable length of time that comes close to asphyxiation. This sort of music—the best of it can be heard in “Bring Him Home” from Les Mis and “The Phantom of the Opera”—is impressive when it contains operatic, pitch-felt emotions and brings audiences out of their chairs, but there are times here when its just an impressive feat not a moment of heartbreak. And the lyrics include feats of rhyming that are not in the least startling, but predictable.

All of that being said, as the emperor in “Gladiator” might put it, I was entertained, if not thrilled. Some of that had to do with the comfort zone of a familiar plot—a doctor playing god by eliminating evil from man’s makeup, gets too strong a dose of it, and ruins himself by bringing to life his inner psychotic,with murderous results.

Hyde, sung in growly, loud, raspy style by Meroulis, storms across the stage laying everything to waste, most notably the members of the board who run the hospital where Dr. Jekyll works. They’re a loud, vivid bunch of Victorian Age one percenters, a regular rich rogue’s gallery from a haughty grand dame, a lecherous, predatory bishop, a useless barrister, to a pompous model of a British major general, of the kind that Gilbert and Sullivan skewered regularly. Hyde does some skewering also.

Jekyll, going deeper into the muck, has to solve the problem of his women—one of them Lucy, a true lady of the night with a heart of gold and Ella, his delectable fiancé. The two are mightily dissimilar both in performance and voice—Cox plays Lucy with warm realism, her rangy pop voice hitting every song out of the park, including the appealing “Bring on the Men” and Teal has a chandelier-breaking voice and performing skill that brings a thankless part to life.

Meroulis throws himself into the task with such fervor—over the top in acting, on the money with his hold-on-to-your-seat rock arena voice—that you might want to ask for a recount on the American Idol vote.

This “Jekyll & Hyde”, which is taking another shot at Broadway, is as good as it can be,never more and never less than that, given the material. In the theater, that’s enough for a worthy night out.

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