Yes, it is bombastic and overwrought. It's true that there's enough smoke to make three Whitesnake videos. OK, it sometimes makes "The Phantom of the Opera" seem small and staid.
But there's something to cheer about in the revival of "Jekyll & Hyde" that has rolled into Broadway after a 25-week national tour. It is what it is, and it does that very well. It's a big, loud rock opera and makes no apologies for itself. Nor should it. If you wanted a subtle musical without stabbings and bondage, what exactly are you doing at "Jekyll & Hyde"?
The new version that opened Thursday at the Marquis Theatre - arriving 16 years after its debut - takes itself so seriously that it almost veers into camp, but it's a stunningly beautiful steampunk vision with great costumes, projections and sets.
Plus, the three main vocalists who came along to sing these Frank Wildhorn songs will make your ears bleed: Constantine Maroulis, Deborah Cox and Teal Wicks. Who cares if there's way too much lightening and overacting? These three can deliver, some even while wearing naughty Victorian outfits.
Director and choreographer Jeff Calhoun - so apple-cheeked with "Newsies" and trying-to-be-understanding in Wildhorn's recent "Bonnie & Clyde" - has tapped into his Hyde side with this overripe tale of a scientist whose attempt to isolate the bad element in man leads to a split personality. There's a little bondage, a pretty graphic suicide, some slapping around, filthy hookers, rough sex and five cold-blooded murders. Leave the kids at home.
Maroulis, the former "American Idol" contestant who earned a Tony Award nomination for "Rock of Ages," proves a gifted singer if not the most nuanced of actors in the title role. His hair - ponytailed as the gentleman Jekyll and free-flowing when he becomes the hedonistic Hyde - gets a workout. (He also, Clark Kent-ish, wears glasses when he's mild-mannered.) This guy, reared in "Rock of Ages," can toss his mane around better than any 1980s hair-band singers.
Allow Maroulis this: He gives it his all, whether it's nailing the anthem "This is the Moment" or being exceedingly menacing with a cane. He might have to say dopey things like "I started this alone and I must finish it alone," but he does it with purpose and careful diction. An exhausted man gets the big applause at the end. He deserves it. He should get two paychecks.
Cox, an award-winning R&B singer who plays a put-upon brothel worker, is both sexy and touching as a love interest for both Jekyll and Hyde. She delivers a jaded, bum-slapping "Bring on the Men" and then a touching "Someone Like You," her voice soaring so stunningly that it seems to open a new dimension. Wicks is luminous in the underwritten part of Jekyll's fiancee but still manages to lend some glamor and skill to the part. Both women deliver a knockout duet "In His Eyes."
But perhaps the star of the show is Tobin Ost, the scenic and costume designer who has a history of working with Calhoun. His buildings here are appropriately off-kilter, his walls are futuristic and he deploys five massive picture frames that become mirrors, paintings and brick walls, or whatever a clever Daniel Brodie decides to project on them.
Ost's use of long strings during one scene - inside a brothel called, aha, The Spider's Web - is a playful stroke. He then turns the rump of that set into Jekyll's laboratory, complete with bubbling, glowing vials and tubes. Appropriate for a story about a man who wears two hats, Ost also has created the smashing costumes, dark Victorian exaggerations with Goth references that showcase garters, suspenders, white crisp shirts, foppery and hats.
The sets and costumes all come together thrilling in the Act 1 song "Facade," in which five odd people appear in their underwear and are then dressed by their servants to slowly emerge in their societal roles - a priest, a soldier, a lord, a lady and a lawyer. Pity they all must die.
Sometimes when watching "Jekyll & Hyde" there are moments when it seems like what you're watching is outtakes from "This Is Spinal Tap." But that's this show's charm. You'll always be of two minds about it, so just give in to the silly side.
It’s a show about duality, so Frank Wildhorn’s dark and stormy pop-rock musical “Jekyll & Hyde” deserves two interpretations.
A. It’s about men’s good and evil sides, which are ever linked.
B. It’s about the most extreme case of cold feet ever. Consider: After years of honorable study into human nature’s two-sidedness, sweet Dr. Henry Jekyll (Constantine Maroulis) unleashes his savage side as his wedding to Emma (Teal Wicks) looms. His drug-induced alter ego, Edward Hyde, visits a prostitute, Lucy (Deborah Cox), for bondage romps and then goes on a killing spree as “I do” draws closer.
Either way, “Jekyll & Hyde” is an over-the-top bloody hoot. At times, it’s like a theme-park attraction, but it’s got a saving grace. The show doesn’t take itself too seriously as it power-ballads its way through Victorian-era London.
In its original Broadway run of 1,543 performances, the show earned a cult-fan following, thanks to catchy anthems by composer Wildhorn and lyricist Leslie Bricusse (“Victor/Victoria”), who also wrote the book drawn from Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic.
This revival’s stars make the music shine. Maroulis, an “American Idol” runnerup and a “Rock of Ages” Tony nominee, tackles Jekyll and Hyde with pipes roaring. He knows how to build drama in a song and makes the familiar “This Is the Moment” fresh. He impresses.
Ditto Cox, a dance-music princess and “Aida” alum. She can belt, but it’s a hushed open-throated ache in the yearning “Someone Like You” that stands out. Another highlight comes when she and Wicks go head-to-head on the passionate duet “In His Eyes.”
This revival arrives at the Marquis Theatre following a U.S. tour. Director-choreographer Jeff Calhoun (“Newsies”) again shows off his knack for snappy pacing and vibrant stage pictures.
Set designer Tobin Ost, who also did the period clothes, uses projections and flipping panels to evoke a posh London home, gizmo-filled lab and grubby whorehouse. Lighting designer Jeff Croiter bathes it all in moody shadows.
Calhoun has trimmed narrative flab, but even so, the story gets repetitious as Jekyll wreaks revenge on upper-crusts who thwarted his research.
And he can’t solve the show’s comic-strip conceit. Londoners don’t recognize that Hyde is Jekyll — even though they’re identical, save for spectacles and hairstyles.
Nitpicky. But “Jekyll & Hyde” is about understanding what’s in men’s minds and hearts. Fat chance when people can’t even differentiate what’s on the outside.
The climax of “Jekyll & Hyde — The Musical” is the infamous “Confrontation” scene, the peak of the evening-long battle between good Dr. Henry Jekyll and evil Edward Hyde.
The trick, of course, is that this is a duet for one: Jekyll and Hyde are the same man, played by a single actor who goes back and forth between two personas.
“You can’t control me!” Hyde screeches, “I live deep inside you!/Each day you’ll feel me devour your soul!”
“Damn you, Hyde!” Jekyll sings back. “Set me free!”
(It’s an exclamation-mark kind of show.)
This is juicy stuff, the moment we’ve been waiting for. But the drab revival of Frank Wildhorn’s show that opened last night mucks it up.
Constantine Maroulis is center stage in his meek Jekyll guise. But unlike his predecessors — original star Robert Cuccioli, David Hasselhoff and Skid Row frontman Sebastian Bach — Maroulis trades lines with a giant video projection of himself as Hyde.
So much for the show’s one and only point, that good and evil live within one man.
Maybe Jeff Calhoun, the usually capable director/choreographer (“Newsies,” “Bonnie & Clyde”), lacked confidence in his star. But it’s unfair to single out poor Maroulis when the overall production is a cheap mess of bare-bones set and clueless staging that defeats the show’s bombastic allure. Indeed, despite the critical drubbing it received, the 1997 Broadway production managed more than 1,500 performances.
Maroulis is a likable performer, and he’s built an honorable Broadway career since placing sixth on “Idol” in 2005 — he even earned a Tony nomination for his sweet-tempered performance in “Rock of Ages.” But he’s out of his depth here.
Jekyll is a mild-mannered physician who invents a potion that can turn one’s bad thoughts into a separate personality. To play him, Maroulis wears glasses, nervously rakes his hand over his ponytailed mane and speaks sheepishly.
After Jekyll experiments on himself and becomes Hyde, Maroulis lets his hair down, puts on a top hat and turns into Slash. He can belt with the best of them and does fine by the show’s anthem, Jekyll’s “This Is the Moment,” but he flails as a psychotic serial killer.
A man with a split personality needs equally distinct love interests, and they happen to be the show’s best singers.
Teal Wicks brings a solid blend of power and finesse to her numbers as Jekyll’s virtuous fiancée, Emma. But she pales next to R&B starlet Deborah Cox (“Aida”), who barrels through the role of Lucy, the stereotypical hooker with a heart of gold.
Still, the evening is a dispiriting slog.
“Where is that fine line where sanity melts?” Jekyll sings. Some theatergoers, bored out of their minds, may well answer: at the Marquis.
Frank Wildhorn musicals: the crab grass of Broadway. Although they have been liberally sprayed with herbicidal reviews ever since the first, “Jekyll & Hyde,” opened in 1997, they have continued to sprout every few years: “The Civil War” and “Dracula,” “Wonderland” and “Bonnie & Clyde.” Oh, and let’s not forget “The Scarlet Pimpernel,” a production that opened on Broadway not once but twice (long story).
A half-dozen original musicals in a little more than 15 years may not sound like a staggering achievement — or a virulent outbreak, depending on your taste — but Mr. Wildhorn’s Broadway output is unmatched by any other composer in the same period. This, even though not one of his shows turned a profit during its Broadway engagement. (To be fair, few shows do.)
Perhaps it’s time to acknowledge that, just as weeds will crop up wherever lawns are laid, Wildhorn musicals are an inevitable part of the wildlife of Broadway, where even more noxious flora appear with some regularity. So let us give a warm welcome back — or maybe just a shrug, a sigh and a tip of the bowler hat — to the return of “Jekyll & Hyde,” the Victorian-gothic pop-opera that started it all.
The revival that opened on Thursday night at the Marquis Theater, directed and choreographed by Jeff Calhoun, will no doubt stir passionate excitement among the show’s many fans. Although the original “Jekyll & Hyde” didn’t make money, the production played more than 1,500 performances and spawned flocks of obsessive acolytes, known as “Jekkies.”
These rabid fans will surely be soon convening at watering holes around the theater district to debate the urgent questions the new production raises. Does Constantine Maroulis, the former “American Idol” contestant who won a Tony nomination for his role as the headbanging hero of “Rock of Ages,” have the vocal chops to meet the murderous tessitura of the title role(s)? Does Deborah Cox, best known as a disco diva whose biography notes that she has had 11 No. 1 songs on Billboard’s Hot Dance Club Play chart, possess the acting talent to portray the hooker with lungs of steel to match her heart of gold? (Linda Eder, Mr. Wildhorn’s wife at the time, played the role in the first version.)
And does the addition of elaborate digital video enhance or detract from the dramatic intensity of the climactic “Confrontation” number, in which the good doctor performs a duet with his own bad self?
I hardly know where to begin in addressing matters of such moment. Let us take them one by one, shall we?
Yes, Mr. Maroulis meets the throat-thrashing challenges of Mr. Wildhorn’s score with aplomb, his high-reaching pop tenor evincing little strain when rising to the piercing climaxes. I was also impressed by Mr. Maroulis’s quietly intense performance as the obsessive Dr. Jekyll, whose quest to unlock the secrets of the divided human psyche have such unfortunate consequences for his mental hygiene, not to mention his hairdo. (When the potion he has devised unleashes the devil within, Mr. Hyde’s first nefarious act is to undo his tidy ponytail and begin flinging his dark locks around as if they were deadly weapons.)
Ms. Cox looks fetching in the naughty Victorian lingerie worn at all hours by the ill-fated Lucy Harris, the prostitute who finds an unfortunately passive protector in the noble Dr. Jekyll and a still more unfortunately aggressive abuser in his bloodthirsty alter ego. Statuesque and beautiful, Ms. Cox brings a suffering dignity to this cliché in corsets. More important for those who have come to hear a pop diva do what pop divas do best, her dark, lustrous voice does nice justice to her character’s signature song, the power ballad “Someone Like You.” (Both Mr. Maroulis and Ms. Cox have a tendency to drift downstage center when putting across their big numbers, as if performing in an arena, but the songs naturally invite this kind of treatment.)
As for that tense climax, in which Dr. Jekyll attempts to forever do away with his other persona (“Damn you, Hyde, set me free!”), and Mr. Hyde makes clear he will not go gently into that good night (“Can’t you see, you are me!”), I register no objections to allowing Mr. Maroulis to give his voice a rest by having the evil Hyde appear (via video) as a flame-haloed, glowering devil in a giant mirror, his half of the duet having been prerecorded.
If anything, this innovation reduces the campy histrionics of having the same actor engage in a singing duel to the death with himself. (In the original, Robert Cuccioli flicked the switch between personas by flinging his own ample tresses from side to side. A quick YouTube trawl brought forth a priceless, speeded-up version of David Hasselhoff performing the song in this style, sounding like a crazed chipmunk.)
Unfortunately there’s no way to digitally airbrush away the hokum that pervades the whole show, like the ample stage smoke puffing away throughout the proceedings, giving a most commendable featured performance as the fabled pea-soupy London fog. The actors portraying the sniveling or snobbish enemies of Dr. Jekyll all perform their chores with flavorsome relish, and Teal Wicks, as his ladylike love interest Emma Carew, suffers with noble fortitude as her hopes for happy matrimony begin to grow dim indeed.
Mr. Wildhorn’s score is probably his most appealing, as it mixes equal parts Hammer horror, Andrew Lloyd Webber-style pseudo-operatics and adult-contemporary-radio anthems. I’ll cop to a happy goosepimple or two as Mr. Maroulis and Ms. Cox let loose during their impassioned solo songs. The music’s mixture of styles — there’s even a bit of “Carmina Burana”-type shrieking tossed in for good measure — does make for a bizarre combination, but the variations are somewhat smoothed over by the unyielding stream of banalities in the lyrics by Leslie Bricusse, who also wrote the book.
A cursory reading of the libretto gives rise to yet another urgent question. Do the clichés in the lyrics outnumber the exclamation points, or vice versa? But I’m afraid I’d rather leave that one to those with a deeper interest in textual analysis of Frank Wildhorn musicals.
The theater season isn't even officially over for another frantic week. But Broadway already has its tourist-ready 19th century potboiler for summer visitors who have seen "The Phantom of the Opera" so often they've stopped gasping at the falling chandelier.
We speak of "Jekyll & Hyde," which ran almost four years on Broadway in the late '90s and was the first and most popular of the six critically unloved musicals by the dauntingly prolific, vanilla-pop composer Frank Wildhorn.
Like many of his shows, this is based on a junk-food demiclassic and propelled by tear-your-guts-out, face-the-audience-and-belt anthems that cumulatively cancel one another out but, individually, have been favorites of Olympic skaters, presidential inaugurations and other exalted tests of the human spirit.
The revival has been restaged and rechoreographed with imaginative low-budget economy by Jeff Calhoun, who also did both the hit "Newsies" and "Bonnie & Clyde," Wildhorn's most mature (but still short-lived) show. Tobin Ost's functionally minimal sets -- mostly five hanging panels -- have a cutdown theatricality that must be useful on the road. His costumes for the fancy maids reveal at least as much cleavage as Jekyll/Hyde sees at his late-night visits to the brothel.
Constantine Maroulis, who got a Tony nomination for "Rock of Ages" but may forever be identified as an "American Idol" finalist, has a confident, nerdy-scholar presence and a big, sometimes nasal croon as the scientist obsessed with trying to cure his father's madness through chemistry. When Dr. Jekyll infuses himself from colored test tubes to the heart-thumping inspirational song "This Is the Moment," you can tell he's the evil Mr. Hyde because he takes the rubber band off his ponytail.
Where the original Lucy (and Wildhorn's ex wife) Linda Eder impressed with her powerhouse lungs and phrasing that evoked Barbra Streisand, Deborah Cox plays the fallen woman with comparable heft, a surprisingly chaste sexuality and, especially in the second-act "A New Life," more of a Whitney Houston gleam.
The score is mostly fourth-generation "Les Miserables" schlock opera. Leslie Bricusse's lyrics are shameless with such klutzy greeting-card rhymes as "I must put aside / the fear I have inside / there is no place to hide." Teal Wicks, as Jekyll's noble fiancee, admirably refuses to let her warm voice get lost among the screamers, though it's hard to tell with all that amplification.
Ah, Broadway in the 1990s: all those bloated, humorless musicals (some held over from the more excessive successes of the '80s), with their amorphous scores, vapid books and overblown set and costume design.
If you're getting nostalgic, you may be pleased to learn that a new production of Jekyll & Hyde (** out of four) opened Thursday at the Marquis Theatre.
For who missed it the first time, the Leslie Bricusse/Frank Wildhorn musical — adapted rather loosely from Robert Louis Stevenson's famed novella about an English gentleman with two very different personalities — follows the ordeal of Henry Jekyll, an earnest young scientist who longs to pinpoint what he describes, in the characteristically bombastic opening number, as "the nature of the demons that possess man's soul."
After his research proposal is dismissed by a prestigious hospital's cartoonishly pompous Board of Governors, Jekyll determines to be his own subject. But the experiment goes awry, and Edward Hyde is born — a bummer for Jekyll, who was hoping not only to save the world but to marry a fair maiden with a well-connected father.
Things get even more complicated when Jekyll befriends a voluptuous brothel worker, Lucy, who sees him as a potential savior but, naturally, fears Hyde — even though she gets kinda turned on when the latter pays her a surprise visit in the second act.
This revival, directed with blunt force by Jeff Calhoun, is perhaps most notable for casting pop aspirants-turned-musical theater babies in the leads. American Idol alumnus Constantine Maroulis, who earned a Tony Award nomination starring in Rock of Ages, tackles the dual role of Jekyll and Hyde; Deborah Cox, a gifted R&B singer who appeared in Aida in 2004, plays Lucy.
The leading man's task is harder, not least of all because Calhoun, in deference to Bricusse's witless book and lyrics, has the performers cast as upper-crust Brits all act and sing as if they'd just swallowed starch. Maroulis' attempts at the King's English are shaky; he tends to speak in a mannered whisper, spitting out his consonants when he remembers to and dutifully exaggerating certain vowel sounds.
He seems more comfortable when singing, tearing into Wildhorn's hokey melodies with the vengeance of an arena-rock crooner on steroids. At last Tuesday's performance, the audience ate up his histrionics; the louder and longer the note, the better.
Cox also struggles with her adopted accent — Cockney, in Lucy's case — but proves a much more graceful singer. Her ripe, creamy voice, with its alluring flecks of whiskey, lends a bit more soul to the generic ballads meant to express Lucy's suffering and longing.
Alas, a few glimpses of unfettered emotion cannot sustain a two-hour-plus parade of shrill melodrama. But if the latter is more your thing anyway, you're in luck.