The set-up: Robert Louis Stevenson wrote his classic novel about the duality of man -- the good Dr. Jekyll experiments upon himself and transforms into the beast Mr. Hyde -- two years before Jack the Ripper's autumn reign of terror in 1888 London. The monsters share surprising similarities. In Frank Wildhorn and Leslie Bricusses's monster-cult musical adaptation, there's not nearly enough Stevenson and way too much Wildhorn and Bricusse.
The execution: In its time, Wildhorn's show, his most consistently entertaining and melodic (up to a point), had a devoted quasi-religious veneration that now envelopes Wicked. There's grand sweep to the story, the scenes move crisply, there are enough pop anthems to fill an entire season of American Idol, and the stage is constantly full of Victorian London low lifes and hypocritical high ones. It's a huge songfest, which is the problem, because Wildhorn's soaring music sounds the same and packs an identical emotional wallop, except when it samples Cabaret ("Bring on the Men") or Stephen Sondheim ("Murder, Murder").
It comes as no surprise that veteran Masquerade Theatre stars Luther Chakurian (Jekyll/Hyde) and Kristina Sullivan (prostitute Lucy) belt their lungs out, radiantly by the way, and deliver definitive performances. The velvety sheen from Michelle Macicek, as Jekyll's fiancée Emma, would prompt an angel to comment, "My, that's heavenly;" and grand trooper Michael Ross takes a nothing role like Jekyll's trusty friend John and spins it into gold. Kendrick Mitchell turns pimp Spider into a creepy lithograph straight from the east end's Police News; and Tyler Berry Lewis, in his Masquerade debut as prig Simon Stride, disappears from the musical much too soon but fills the house with robust singing.
The costumes and settings are a grab bag of second-tier Victoriana without much thought to grand design -- Lucy would never, even as the lowest of the low, show so much leg in public. She'd have been arrested for exposure, not soliciting. If you stall out because of those atrocious Bricusse lyrics -- he clobbers you with rhyme until you want him to be Hyde's next victim --Wildhorn's power ballads will propel you into the next scene. With his insistent pulse and shameless tactic of raising the key for each subsequent verse, his songs force you onward. It's a kind of musical gift.
The verdict: While Jekyll and Hyde may not be enough gift for every Broadway baby, Masquerade knows how to wrap it up vocally and make it sing.
7:30 p.m. May 21; 2 p.m. May 22; 7:30 p.m. May 27; 7:30 May 28; 2 p.m. May 29. Masquerade Theatre, Hobby Center, 800 Bagby. For information, call 713-861-7045 or visit http://masqueradetheatre.com.