The Thinker

Review: Jekyll & Hyde at the Kennedy Center

Musical composer Frank Wildhorn is one of the few composers to have had two shows running on Broadway at the same time, specifically Jekyll & Hyde and The Scarlet Pimpernel. Of the two, the older is Jekyll & Hyde, first produced on Broadway in 1997. This predictably dark musical has had a number of revisions over the years. The one that appeared Thanksgiving evening at the Opera House at the Kennedy Center feels very much like the latest, and not necessarily best revision.

It is hard for me to say for sure, of course, since this is the first time I have seen it staged live. I did watch a pay per view performance with David Hasselhoff playing, of course, both the humanist Dr. Henry Jekyll and his alter ego, the murderous Edward Hyde. I was disappointed both because I find Hasselhoff very annoying and because the musical had been toned down from the much darker version first tried out in Houston, Texas that I have on CD. This version is gratefully darker and brings back numbers that did not warrant disappearance, and maybe made it off limits for children like the bawdy “Bring on the Men”. But it also feels more jangled and rock-like. While not a rock musical, it feels like it is experimenting with it a bit on the edges. Moreover, some of the notes have been changed making the songs less fluid and a bit off key. It didn’t help that the acoustics in the Opera House were less than ideal, with the sound dramatically over-modulated and frequently excessively loud.

The result was an uneven performance that had some merits but many detractions. Constantine Maroulis, a fine actor, does not have the best voice, at least for the songs he has to sing here. He sounds breathy when he sings. It turns out that the musical’s true flaws lie elsewhere: with its script. It must have been good enough to survive four years on Broadway, but at least with this version produced by Nederlander Presentations it simply lacks plausibility and heart. And that’s a shame because all the murders that Edward Hyde wreaks don’t mean much if the characters he kills are all cardboard, which is largely the case here. One thing is for sure: you won’t be living long if you are a member of the St. Jude’s Hospital Board of Governors, and if you are a member then you are a flaming hypocrite that maybe deserves to be slashed and/or strangled to death.

Granted, it’s hard for a musical that is mostly about killing other people to have heart, but in this case you have to believe that Henry Jekyll is the passionate humanist he claims to be. I didn’t feel it in Maroulis’s performance. John (played by Laird Mackintosh) is supposed to be Henry’s best friend and his lawyer, but there simply isn’t enough dialog and interaction for us to feel that any friendship exists. “Look behind the façade,” the actors sing in one of the opening numbers. The audience though is left with the feeling that the musical is a façade, flashy but not terribly engaging and ultimately not terribly compelling.

Not that there aren’t some good performances. Deborah Cox landed the role of Lucy, the harlot with a heart who is drawn to Jekyll because he is the only good man she has ever met. Cox is a great actress and has a voice to match. To the extent that this version is worth seeing, it is probably for Cox’s portrayal of Lucy. There is also the music, which when it is good is quite memorable. Wildhorn and lyricist Leslie Bricusse can put together some memorable show tunes that rival some of Andrew Lloyd’s Webber’s best. In Jekyll & Hyde we get “Take me as I am”, “Bring on the Men”, “This is the Moment”, “Alive”, “Dangerous Game” and “Confrontation” that are all compelling.

The direction and staging are competent but not particularly compelling. Jekyll’s laboratory has been redesigned so we get fluorescent flasks of bubbling chemical concoctions delivered into Jekyll’s veins via tubes instead of flasks. Special effects, such as they are, are saved for the song “Confrontation”, which are well done but do not really redeem the musical’s many faults.

I don’t feel that ripped off, however. Tickets were only $49, a good deal for the Kennedy Center, but were perhaps priced so low because word had gotten around that this production was less than stellar. If you have a hankering to see the musical and can snatch any of these tickets, it is probably worth seeing, but you had best hurry, since it’s last performance at the Kennedy Center is on Sunday. If you paid full price, well, I’m sorry. You are likely to feel disappointed.

While this production does have some merits and I have seen much worse at the Kennedy Center, it is probably not Jekyll & Hyde at its best. You might want to wait for a better and more compelling production.

 

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