Jekyll & Hyde, Together (Groan) Again
If Jekyll & Hyde's co-producers -- the Alley Theatre, Theatre Under the Stars, and Seattle's 5th Avenue Musical Theatre Company -- think their big-budget premiere is ready for Broadway, they're as deranged as the good doctor's alter ego. They plan a national tour; it'll be a long and winding road to the Great White Way.
Actually, the odyssey began in 1990. The show originated then, under the Alley's auspices. The highlight was the pre-cast concept album -- the first in American musical theater history. The album was a hit, with some of its songs reaching the Miss America Pageant and the Olympics. The staging, though, apparently didn't have what it takes to travel; though a New York workshop production was subsequently attempted, nothing came of it.
Nothing coherently satisfying comes of the creative team's second -- third? -- try either, despite ten new songs and significant reconfigurations. The show's flaws, like Jekyll's, are ingrained, and too much feels ill-considered. Some dramatic exorcisms are in order.
The musical thriller doesn't stress the symbolic internal conflict that was at the heart of Robert Louis Stevenson's 1886 novella about the struggle between Jekyll's civilized self and the madman, Edward Hyde, he periodically becomes after his experiments on himself backfire. Indeed, we're already an hour deep into the two-and-three-quarter-hour show before Jekyll's metamorphosis even begins. To fill the time, Jekyll goes the romance novel route with a fiancee, Lisa Carew, a beautiful high society girl who serves no function whatsoever except to provide a devoted love interest. What she does is sing ballads. Apparently, she has earlier spurned Jekyll's mean-spirited colleague, Simon Stride, who's said to have had his chance with her, but these developments aren't believable. Made out to be Jekyll's rival, Stride vows a day will come when Jekyll will pay. For what? We're never told. After the vow, Stride sporadically resurfaces, his vague threat left hanging. The character is superfluous.
The importance of Lucy, a spicy-but-sweet prostitute, is that she gets caught between Jekyll and Hyde. Yet her ambivalent attraction to "them" is better suited to Lisa -- or makes Lisa unnecessary. The goal appears mathematical: Lisa and Jekyll as the "positive" couple and Lucy and Hyde as the "negative." But because Lucy is drawn to both men, the logic of the equation breaks down. In any case, Lucy gets the best songs.
Since we already know the outcome, suspense must come in the telling. But Jekyll doesn't do enough to battle Hyde's deceptive vitality. The possibility of an antidote is dealt with terribly offhandedly. Lisa's discovery of Jekyll's secret is unconvincing; how she deals with it summarily occurs off-stage; and what's billed as the "Confrontation" between Jekyll and Hyde is wishful, manipulative dramatizing, since the real showdown has to occur during the finale -- which, of course, is Lisa and Jekyll's wedding.
Mostly sung-through, Jekyll & Hyde exists for its songs, whether they serve the dramatic requirements or not. The show starts with Jekyll singing about his need to know the dual nature in people. When he appears before the medical board to petition for a human experiment, he sings another song that conveys the exact same information. "We are all well aware of the controversial nature of his work," says one member. Indeed. Lisa is given a father; he worries about "Letting Go"; the concern is then dropped. Action comes to a halt when the prostitutes reveal the wistfulness of being "The Girls of the Night." Thirty minutes less would be so much more.
The creative team seems seduced by the score's tunefulness. Frank Wildhorn can compose lilting, lovely melodies (he wrote Whitney Houston's "Where Do Broken Hearts Go?"). But his bounding abilities go unchecked. Too, sometimes he strays from musical theater into pop music. Yet there's no denying, for example, that "This Is the Moment" soars and "Someone Like You" swells.
But uninspired lyrics by Leslie Bricusse mar consonance. If not cumbersome -- "This is the moment / This is the time / When the momentum / And the moment are in rhyme." -- they're trite -- "For if someone like you / Found someone like me / Then suddenly / Nothing would ever be the same." Only occasionally, as in the sensual threat of "It's a Dangerous Game" or the witty gossip of "Bitch, Bitch, Bitch," are his words up to Wildhorn's music. You'd never know that Bricusse's resume includes the impressive Stop the World, I Want to Get Off.
Under Gregory Boyd's slipshod direction, actors sing the many solos and duets downstage front, looking out past the audience. He herds the supporting cast. There's no momentum or transition or sense of time passage, the stage is frequently too dark, and overreliance on dry-ice machines turns atmospheric fog into distracting smog. Boyd does concoct startling images -- a straight-jacketed man in an isolation chamber, a stain of blood in a silken-white room -- but he sometimes goes too far, or else doesn't go far enough. And though it would be ludicrously schizophrenic to have Jekyll fight Hyde face to face, if you will, having him grapple with a ghoulish Hyde projected on a screen just doesn't work.
Neither does Vincent Mountain's set of steel girders and scaffolding, sort of an erector-set bridge that rotates into other things. Abstractions don't help a text that labors to pinpoint the hypocrisies of Victorian society. Even though scenery is sometimes flown to suggest definite locales, there's no unity of design. Howell Binkley's lighting is basically a bunch of funneled spots. Even in the production numbers, Barry McNabb doesn't choreograph much.
Robert Cuccioli's Jekyll lacks intellectual passion, therefore hampering more than half the show. He's better at Hyde; the physical transformation -- no makeup -- works to a large degree through his robust, demonic confidence. As Lucy, Linda Eder, reprising the role in which she made her theatrical debut, sings up a storm. Indeed, she stops the show with "Someone Like You," belting it out with technical precision, just like the 12-time winner of Star Search she is. Which is exactly the problem. Bustier aside, she's not slinky; ballads aside, she's not touching. She gives a concert, not a portrayal. In fact, she gets shown up during the show's best moment, a duet, "In His Eyes," with Christiane Noll (as Lisa). Not only does Noll sing particularly virtuously, but she does so as a musical theater actress. Thus, the duet is glorious -- and telling -- because Noll matches Eder note for note but passes her in dimension. Noll is a rising star, finely imbuing her underwritten role. Her considerable talent is wasted here.
A pre-cast concept album was recorded for this version of Jekyll & Hyde, too. On it, Jekyll rails, "Seems vision is a word they've never heard!" The sad irony is, except for the marketing department, the censure applies to almost everyone connected with this musical.
Jekyll & Hyde plays through February 19 at The Music Hall, 810 Bagby, 1-800-766-6048.
Get the Theater Newsletter
Get a rundown of upcoming theater events and ticket deals in Houston.