Jekyll & Hyde
The Broadway bound tour of Frank Wildhorn’s "Jekyll & Hyde" brought its shadowy interpretation of the Gothic literature classic to Philadelphia this week at the Forrest Theatre. For this production, the story has increased the gruesome detail and the staging and performances have morphed into a more of a rock opera than the decidedly classical tone of the original Broadway presentation. Rather predictably, the outcome was significantly more horrifying and tragic than its dark subject matter.
"Jekyll & Hyde" was never a perfect musical to begin with. A poorly written book and slightly erratic plot points left a show with a few too many imperfections to ever truly win its place in the Broadway Hall of Fame. Still, a slew of Tony and Drama Desk nominations, national tours and an admirably long run was enough for a revival to make sense.
At the bottom of its problems, "Jekyll & Hyde" has some stunning music that can easily serve as showstoppers in the right hands, as with the original cast led by Linda Eder and Robert Cuccioli.
It is the casting that provides the most noticeable error in this production. Going for what some would call big names, this cast is led by Constantine Maroulis as Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde and Deborah Cox as Lucy. Maroulis is an "American Idol" alum and Tony-nominated actor for his work in "Rock of Ages."
Cox is a former R&B sensation who has since found her footing mostly in huge club anthems with notable DJs. On paper, these two actually seem to be smart choices for the roles. In person, it was far from enjoyable.
Maroulis had a whole host of problems playing this admittedly challenging role. The acting was erratic, but in some ways this was acceptable for the Jekyll & Hyde duality. Where he suffered the most was in the singing.
Maroulis is an admirably talented singer, but there wasn’t a song he didn’t rush through only to bombard the audience with ridiculous and strange big notes. He would do well to remember that this is neither an arena rock concert nor a last ditch effort to stay on "Idol." With wonderfully nuanced songs given to him, it was disappointing time and again that we had to suffer through self-indulgence rather than thoughtful performances.
Cox, on the other hand, had the opposite problem. Vocally she did wonders with Lucy’s big numbers, with the exception of what should have been the exciting inclusion of the once-cut "Bring On The Men." A rousing song both in energy and vocals, this was left off the original Broadway set list, and if this was what it was meant to look like perhaps it should have stayed there.
Luckily this can be forgiven considering how emotional and lovely the many ballads Cox’s character is given. On the acting side, however, it was difficult to connect with her "hooker with a heart of gold" archetype, leaving us with good performances without any context in which to enjoy them.
Maroulis and Cox aside, the rest of the cast, especially Teal Wicks as Emma, were uniformly up to the high octane vocal tasks set before them. Wicks is a sweet voiced powerhouse paired with sincere and affecting acting chops, and was a pleasure whenever she was on stage. The group numbers were all as thrilling as I expected they would be, and that certainly helped soften the blow of all of Jekyll/Hyde’s songs being routinely ruined.
The staging was thrilling for the most part, but certain choices were perhaps efforts to embrace the camp factor of the story but really just led to me feeling a bit embarrassed. This was never more evident than in the explosive "Confrontation" between Jekyll and Hyde.
With a malevolant projected Maroulis as Hyde singing back and forth with a desperate shaking Jekyll on the stage, the idea was smart enough. But as it continued to explode more and more into excess, it went from good idea to more of the self-indulgence I had long since grown tired of in this production.
This tour has much to learn, and hopefully change, before it can properly make a splash on Broadway. The best moves would be to replace Maroulis and Cox with equally strong singers who would be capable of giving the scenes the acting they deserve as well as someone who can connect with the lyrics rather than treat the stage as an obscene personal concert.
The entire production could use a little more room to breathe considering the eerie and violent nature of the storyline. There is still a lot of good in "Jekyll & Hyde," but it is too hidden in excess to enjoy.
"Jekyll & Hyde" runs through Dec. 30 at the Forrest Theatre, 1114 Walnut Street in Philadelphia. For info or tickets, call 215-923-1515 or visit http://www.forrest-theatre.com/