Review by Peter Schorn
In the midst of a 25-city national tour on its way to the Great White Way of Broadway for a revival starting in April 2013, the musical Jekyll & Hyde: The Musical brings its tale and tunes of madness to the Fisher Theatre for one week only, Nov. 27 thru Dec. 2, 2012.
Unlike previous musicals I've seen this year - the dour Green Day-spawned American Idiot and the wonderfully campy hair-metal celebration Rock of Ages (which was far better than the movie) - I went into Jekyll & Hyde totally cold without the slightest idea of what was coming other than Skid Row front man Sebastian Bach did a stint on Broadway in the titular roles and it was a modest success, nominated for several Tony Awards. I didn't know any of the songs or how the story based on the classic Robert Lewis Stevenson novella of worse living through chemistry would play out. I've never seen the Frederic March or Spencer Tracy movies, but I'm pretty sure Bugs Bunny did a cartoon version.
Set in 19th Century London, Dr. Henry Jekyll - played by the never-going-to-lose-this-prefix former American Idol contestant Constantine Maroulis - is attempting to cure his mentally ill father, believing a potion of his creation could separate the evil from the good in people, ushering in a era without war and suffering. (Who knew hippies started in 19th Century London?) When the hospital's board refuses to let him experiment on a patient, he decides to experiment on himself. What could possibly go wrong? That's right, folks! The murderous Mr. Edward Hyde - Jekyll's bad news evil twin who occupies the same skin - stalks the London night committing mayhem. Hydejinks ensue.
Musicals live and die by the quality of their songs and while the show unfolded I thought the tunes were competent enough, but sitting here a couple of hours later, I can't recall a single melody, though my companion thought "A New Life" stuck for them. (It's really not helping that the trailer for Les Miserables I watched 12 hours ago is tromping through my mind.) There's no "Music of the Night" or "I Dreamed a Dream" or even anything as good as in the overrated Rent. It was all well-sung, but there's little there there. The book doesn't help much either in setting up the relationships and motivations. Most of the exposition is crammed into the lyrics and it makes the already thin songs clunk at times.
More problematic is Maroulis in the titular roles because he's simply not good enough an actor to convey the tortured-but-mild Jekyll and the sinister Hyde. He sings well, but his Hyde is too sketchy and totally lacks menace, coming off like a gothy Hot Topic clerk who watched A Clockwork Orange and The Crow and thought trying to act that way might impress the chicks. I couldn't place what bothered me about his performance in the first act, but it came to me in the second as I realized that he was the only person on the stage who didn't seem to be in the show with the commitment of the rest. He was a Tony-nominee for Rock of Ages, so it's probably just a problem of being a poor fit for the material, cast for his supposed sex appeal more than anything. (The way he looks in the trailer below is totally unrelated to how he is in the show.)
Not a poor fit at all and the hands-down star of the show is Deborah Cox as Lucy, the lady of the evening whom attracts the attention of both sides of Dr. J. I was totally unfamiliar with her - as I said, I went in stone cold, reading none of the press materials or articles - and initially thought she was playing Emma, Jekyll's fiance, who was actually the Julie Andrews-esque Teal Wicks. But then came Cox's introductory number, "Bring On the Men," and I realized why her name shared the marquee.
Originally a successful R&B singer, she has great presence on stage (though you have to work with the dissonance of a latte-skinned Canadian playing an illiterate Cockney prostitute) and her voice - that voice! - is simply tremendous, turning every song into a show-stopper. (One song - can't recall which it was - had a sorta fake ending which prompted the audience to applaud, only to have to stop for the final bars before they could really cut loose.) She sounds like a less-bombastic Whitney Houston and had a subtlety and dynamism which elevated the material to such heights it almost seemed worthy of her. Every forgettable song soared and by the end I wished it had been a one-woman show called Lucy: Portrait of an Sexy Illiterate Cockney Prostitute.
Back on the downside, the production seemed drab and dingy; fitting, I suppose, for the seedy streets of Victorian London, but it came off more like being cheap and uninspired. There's some cool use of video projection towards the end of the show, but it's too little, too late.
The fundamental problem with Jekyll & Hyde: The Musical is that it can't escape it's origins which smack of trying to replicate the smash success of Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera without the indelible songs and story. Add in an out-of-his-depth lead and there's not much to recommend catching this show - we saw some people leave at intermission and not return - but if you ever get a chance to see Deborah Cox perform, don't miss it. She's slated to star as Josephine Baker in a show on Broadway in 2014 and it may not be too ridiculous to suggest that the Tony Award for that year can already be engraved.