Theater Review

Strong voices still carry 'Jekyll & Hyde'

CorrespondentJanuary 9, 2013 

  • Details What: “Jekyll & Hyde: The Musical” – pre-Broadway tour Where: Durham Performing Arts Center When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday; 2 p.m. Saturday; 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Sunday Tickets: $35-$100 Contact: 919-680-2787; dpacnc.com

The musical “Jekyll & Hyde,” like its two-sided title character, has always had its good and bad sides, from its late-1980s conception through its numerous tryouts and four-year Broadway run. Now it’s back on a pre-Broadway revival tour, vastly improved but still retaining its underlying problems.

After the success of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Phantom of the Opera,” it’s easy to understand what attracted composer Frank Wildhorn and lyricist Leslie Bricusse to Robert Louis Stevenson’s novella. The story of the 19th-century doctor attempting to control evil in man only to fall prey to it himself seemed ripe for a hit. But their grandiose original had to be continuously whittled and revamped to find an emotional core and a vibrant storyline.

The show has always been more about star performers nailing anthem-like songs than about plot and staging. Here, “American Idol” finalist Constantine Maroulis has the chops to hold stage with intense, hall-filling renditions of “This Is the Moment” (as Dr. Jekyll) and “Alive!” (as Mr. Hyde). Despite a slighter-than-ideal stature for the part, Maroulis gives a fully committed performance as the mild-mannered doctor and his murderous alter ego.

Grammy-nominated R&B singer Deborah Cox, as the prostitute Lucy, matches Maroulis in powerful performances of “Someone Like You” and “A New Life.” She looks terrific in her showgirl outfits but struggles with her Cockney accent and gives Lucy only a generalized characterization. A highlight is her singing with Teal Wicks (impressive as Jekyll’s fiancé, Emma), in the gripping duet, “In His Eyes.”

Director-choreographer Jeff Calhoun provides great energy and precision, nowhere more evident than in the crowd-pleasing ensemble numbers “Façade” and “Murder.” He is aided by Tobin Ost’s striking period costumes and extremely inventive sets, the movable walls and flexible columns reflecting Daniel Brodie’s dazzling projections of fog, rain and blood.

Despite dropped songs and streamlined scenes, the new version still needs work. Most of the songs simply repeat what has been established through dialogue and characterization, stalling the pace and overstating the moment’s drama. Also, there’s not enough emphasis on the doctor’s relationship with Lucy or Emma to justify their romantic outpourings about him.

Those out to hear impressive celebrity vocalizing will not be disappointed. Those wanting a strong connection to the characters and an involving story will have to look elsewhere.

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