Thursday, November 22, 2012

Theatre: Jekyll and Hyde the Musical

Jekyll and Hyde the Musical has gone through many iterations of songs, lyrics and even the names of some characters since it  first played on Broadway from 1997 through 2001.  What has remained throughout the different versions is the basic plot of the dark Gothic classic Robert Louis Stevenson novel about the well intentioned Doctor Henry Jekyll and his efforts to separate good from evil within man.  When he is refused a human subject to test his experiments on, he decides to try them on himself, resulting in the manifestation of the evil, murderous Mr. Edward Hyde.

The musical adds various plot points to flesh out the story.  Jekyll's motivation for his work is to find a way to cure his father's insanity.  He has a fiancee who was originally called Lisa but later renamed Emma for no apparent reason - the name had the same number of syllables and didn't even rhyme better in the lyrics.  Perhaps it was a more British 19th century sounding name.  Both Jekyll and Hyde are drawn to a prostitute named Lucy, leading to tragic results. The Hyde persona eventually grows too strong for Jekyll to control and starts to appear at will.  The epic battle between Jekyll and Hyde personifies the age-old theme of the conflict between good and evil.
A revival of the musical has started with a nation-wide tour, with a stop in Toronto before opening in Broadway in 2013.  I was a bit skeptical when I heard that this version starred Constantine Maroulis of American Idol fame with his trademark long stringy hair and smothering eyes, and 90s Canadian R&B artist Deborah Cox.  After seeing the show, I have to give them credit.  They both had strong singing voices, as did all of the cast.  I was very impressed by Maroulis' acting ability as he switched between the two personae. 
Based on two versions of this show that I have now seen, it seems the role of Jekyll/Hyde is all about the hair.  Jekyll's hair is tied up in a neat ponytail while Hyde lets his flow wildly all over his face.  When David Hasselhoff (of Baywatch fame) played this role in 2001, it looked at times like he had a mop on his head.  Maroulis has the benefit of being able to use his own tresses.  His transformation from Jekyll to Hyde and back again reminded me a bit of Clark Kent jumping into the phone booth to become Superman.  Maroulis whips off his Dr. Jekyll spectacles and pulls the elastic band from his ponytail to let loose the hair when he turns into Hyde.  Turning back into Jekyll goes a bit less smoothly as he struggles to get the glasses back onto his face and to rein in his hair again.

I've loved the songs from this musical since the first time I heard the first "Complete Works" concept album album from 1994.  There are soft haunting tunes, power ballads and fast paced songs with satirical, biting lyrics that comment on the two-faced duality of the upper class.  My favourite such song is called "Facade", which contains lyrics like:

"There's a face that we wear
In the cold light of day -
It's society's mask,
It's society's way,
And the truth is
That it's all a facade!"

Intricate rhyming couplets that pair words like society, propriety, sobriety, piety and notoriety, while forming quick, cohesive stanzas, remind me of the songs of Stephen Sondheim.  The song Facade is usually sung by the poor as an indictment on the rich.  In this latest revival, there is a bit of a twist.  The start of the song is sung by five grotesque figures in their underwear.  You are led to believe that these are the poor homeless people that usually sing this song.  However they are soon joined by maids and butlers who dress help dress them to reveal the distinguished Board of Directors of Dr. Jekyll's hospital.  This clever choreography highlights the message of the song.  The layers of clothing represent the veneer of respectability that the wealthy and powerful hide behind, but its all a facade.  Stripped of this clothing, as we originally see them, we get a glimpse of the true seedy, sinister nature of this group.

Another piece of effective staging is the use of dividing screens that projected the image of each of the Board of Directors.  As Hyde stalks and kills each of them, the screen with their image is illuminated as a counter for the murders.  The contraption used to inject the secret formula into Jekyll that converts him to Hyde, seems right out of a D-rated mad scientist movie.  Finally an interesting use of video and flashing lights allowed Jekyll and Hyde to have the big climatic confrontation with each towards the end of the show.  The large portrait of Dr Jekyll's father which had been displayed throughout the show as a reminder of his motivation, suddenly morphed into a menacing Mr. Hyde.  It was quite tense and exciting, but the music was too loud and Hyde's voice was distorted too much,  making it was difficult to hear the powerful lyrics from the fight.  This staging was more effective than the corny setup in the David Hasselholf production where he used half his face to represent Jekyll and the other to represent Hyde.  To switch between them, he would turn from left to right while the lighting on his face brightened for Jekyll and dimmed for Hyde.

Deborah Cox, in the role of the kind-hearted prostitute Lucy, looked much older than the rosy-cheeked Linda Eder, who played it in the previous version that I saw.  This is not a bad thing since the look fit better with the role of a worn and weathered lady-of-the-night who has been beaten down by a hard life.  I was very happy that this version of the musical brought back Lucy's song called "Bring On The Men" since it was my second favourite song of the original concept album.

Overall, I really enjoyed this production of Jekyll and Hyde, the Musical.  I hope it does well on Broadway.

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