Headlined by Broadway star and American Idol veteran Constantine Maroulis and pop and R&B singing sensation Deborah Cox, Jekyll & Hyde has pumped up the vocals and ramped up the sex appeal for the pre-Broadway national tour, now in brief residence at the Kennedy Center Opera House.
The musical follows the outline of the original horror tale, Robert Louis Stevenson’s “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.” Dr. Henry Jekyll seeks to separate the good and evil in individuals, and awakens his own dark side in the form of Edward Hyde. From there, the rock/pop flavored musical does its own thing, adding the motivation for Jekyll – curing his father in an asylum – a love interest, and additional characters. (In the original book, Hyde existed from the beginning of the story; in the musical, he emerges at the end of Act I.)
Jekyll & Hyde, in many ways, is from the Andrew Lloyd-Webber Institute of Popular, Critic Proof Musicals. Beginning with concept albums, the show developed a strong fan following. Thanks to recordings, Frank Wildhorn’s score, with book and lyrics by Leslie Bricusse, became popular years before the show made it to Broadway, where it ran a very respectable 1,543 performances.
But the composer and lyricist weren’t through tinkering with the musical based on the classic story of man’s dual nature of good and evil and a scientific experiment gone awry. Adding performers with the backgrounds in pop and rock have given the music department a chance to throw in new orchestrations, harmonies, and other Billboard chart influences – as opposed to a wholly Broadway pedigree.
The results are better than I expected, and rise above some of the material. (More on that later.)
Constantine Maroulis has a heavy work load in the show, and keeps rockin’ and rollin’ along. He lifts that potion and totes those scary rock tenor vocals quite skillfully. I found Maroulis to be a sensitive performer – and not just when portraying the very good Dr. Jekyll. Despite his “American Idol” background, Maroulis has stage singing and acting chops and doesn’t just open his mouth to wail.
In the dual roles of the compassionate doctor and the savage and murderous Edward Hyde, Maroulis handles the contrasting characters distinctly. As Jekyll, you see why the lovely Emma Carew – the memorable Teal Wicks – falls for him and you see why everyone should fear the swaggering, sexpot and homicidal maniac, Hyde.
Maroulis puts across his share of the signature Wildhorn/Bricusse songs like they were written for him, such as “Alive,” and “This is the Moment,” the oft-heard ‘grab-my-piece-of-the-sky’ anthem.
Before entering the Opera House, I was admittedly wary of Deborah Cox’s performance. I knew only that she was a Grammy-nominated R & B artist with one Broadway credit in her bio: Elton John’s Aida. Having seen that show during the New York run (and not being impressed), I feared Cox would merely be a matter of stunt casting to draw in some pop and sex appeal.
Boy, was I wrong. Not about the sex appeal, mind you, that’s covered. After all, she plays Lucy, a hooker with a heart of gold who wears fashions from the Victoria’s Secret catalog, circa 1888.
What I was wrong about was her ability to bring something to an underwritten role, based on a handful of scenes and Lucy’s share of the tune-stack. Cox is a new leading lady fit for Broadway and beyond, from what I saw and heard. Like Maroulis, she is a powerhouse vocalist, and a natural actress who finds the warmth in the lyrics of her big numbers “Someone Like You” and “A New Life.” Cox and her co-star also have palpable chemistry in their scenes when Maroulis is the sweet doctor and his bondage loving dark side.
Maroulis and Cox are ably supported by Teal Wicks, a former Elphaba in Wicked, who is another leading lady to watch out for. As Jekyll’s fiancé Emma, Wicks is a picture of Victorian gentility and devotion to her groom-to-be. She more than holds her own with Maroulis, the tender duet “Take Me as I Am,” and the soaring “In His Eyes,” partnering with Cox.
Jekyll’s lawyer and best friend John Utterson is Laird Macintosh, another strong performer. Richard White, that dashing leading man from the “other” Phantom (the Maury Yeston version) and Joey from Most Happy Fella, is Emma’s father, Sir Danvers Carew.
Also impressive, Jekyll & Hyde’s ensemble comprised of powerful singers all around, providing tight harmonies and distinct characters, especially David Benoit as the oily Spider and debauched Bishop.
The performers were aided by magnificent orchestrations, vocal arrangements and sound design, thanks to Kim Scharnberg, Jason Howland, and Ken Travis, respectively.
Jekyll & Hyde
Closes November 25, 2012
John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
2700 F Street, NW Washington, DC 20566
2 hours, 15 minutes with 1 intermission
Tickets: $25 – $115
Wednesday thru Sunday
Tickets or call 800-444-1324
Director and choreographer Jeff Calhoun has assembled all the parts mentioned above into a memorable production that should please audiences on the rest of the tour and once they get to New York in the spring. The show seems shorter than the two hour and fifteen minute running time, due to the strong performances and visual treats in store.
And now: the caveat. The reason I can merely ‘Recommend’ the production. Even with stirring performances and eye-popping visuals, everyone is still left with Wildhorn’s serviceable score and the very professional and prolific Bricusse’s lacking lyrics. The songs have grown on me over the years, but I still feel that the music and lyrics were a concept album tacked on to decent musical.
Jekyll & Hyde, the musical, may not stand the test of time, but this production rises above the material.
Jekyll & Hyde . Conceived for the Stage by Frank Wildhorn and Steve Cuden . Book & Lyrics by Leslie Bricusse . Music by Frank Wildhorn . Directed and Choreographed by Jeff Calhoun . Presented by The Kennedy Center. Reviewed by Jeff Walker.
A new recording of Jekyll & Hyde has been released, featuring Deborah Cox and Constantine Maroulis.
Brad Hathaway reviews it here.