Jekyll and Hyde is simply miraculous, and chilling, sexy, romantic, ironic, dangerous, tragic, jaded, modern, classic, kinky, edgy, and absolutely spectacular. The musical is based on the acclaimed novella The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson, about a London doctor who accidentally unleashes his evil alternate personality in his quest to cure his father’s mental illness. Since then, the story has morphed from this version into several other interpretations, but this national touring production, headed for Broadway in April, stays true to the original, classic story.
The twist? The music has been updated from the original score, to highlight the edgy rock vocals of Constantine Maroulis, and the soul-piercing vocals of Grammy-winning R&B star Deborah Cox. The result is like moving through a dessert buffet, from polite petit-fours one can handle delicately in one’s pincer grasp, to a cascading chocolate fountain that spills onto the floor – with well-dressed guests on their hands and knees licking it up.
From the moment he walks on stage as the introverted, awkward, doesn’t-know-he’s-sexy scientist, Constantine Maroulis drinks, eats and breathes his dual role. He sings like an angel and belts like a devil throughout the show, with vocals that will leave an indelible impression on your soul. As Henry Jekyll, his quest to cure his father leads him to a rejection by a five-person hospital board that votes against funding his research. When he finally chooses himself as the subject of his experiment, everything comes alive with Maroulis’ passionate self-actualizing rendition of “This is the Moment.” His earnest and desperate belief in the necessity of this experiment leads the audience to root for him to succeed, all while knowing that he is about to make a hideous mistake. You BELIEVE that he is good, which is what chills every fiber in one’s being when he morphs into Mr. Hyde. His first appearance as Edward Hyde shocks the system. His accent is thicker, his hair tousled as if he’s touring with Van Halen, and his body stands at a different angle. A fedora covers his face just enough to cast ominous shadows. Maroulis sneers, growls, saunters, screams, and tears through his victims like a rabid dog. This unearthly contrast between Jekyll and Hyde embodied by one actor must be believable for anything else to work. Folks, this WORKS. (I wanted to go backstage after the show with a bowl of matzah ball soup and ask Maroulis if he needed to have a good cry). What an intense, powerful journey he endures each night to bring the audience into his full experience. He abandons himself completely and I am humbled and honored to have joined him.
Deborah Cox’s Lucy is the person Jekyll will never be: Honest with both herself and others. She knows she is making money dancing and selling her body, she knows she deserves better, and grabs the opportunity to find it. She is the only character in the show who is comfortable with Hyde because she understands that everyone has good and bad in them. It’s no wonder that Hyde longs for her: she sees him. Cox accomplishes all of this when she’s not singing, so just imagine her doing so with her brilliant voice. She debuts halfway through Act I in the bawdy ensemble “Bring on the Men,” where we are introduced to the barely dressed ladies using spider web pulleys to tie up and drag men into their lair of seedy seduction. We know then, that she is strong and self-aware. Then, in “Someone Like You,” we see Cox glow like a teenager who was just asked to the prom. She is in love with the idea that Henry Jekyll respects her, and for the first time imagines a life filled with potential. Her duet with Teal Lake’s Emma (who is luminous as Jekyll’s loyal, patient and worried fiancee) in Act II is theatre candy; these women are meant to sing together. It’s her final song, “A New Life,” that truly breaks one’s heart. Cox finally sees her path and is ready to tackle the world while the audience suspects that her story is not yet over. Her final note can be heard for miles and never once gets lost on its way to the last tremendous vibrato. It was only then that I remembered to breathe.
Frank Wildhorn’s music is both true to the classic Broadway style and modern in its rock and roll nuances. He sets the tone for the entire production as he shifts the genre within songs, from ballad to rock. The delicate, jazz-like percussion in Jekyll’s thoughtful tunes contrast with Hyde’s AC/DC-style anger. Ken Travis designed the sound to flow into the music, and sometimes to start off a new number with a bang, literally. The intensely loud effects strike a balance so you feel and hear the sounds but don’t have to cover your ears. He never drowns out the actors, rather he enhances the music behind them. Billy Jay Stein’s lightning bolts of electric music blend with the live orchestra so well that it sounds like a new musical genre. If I had my druthers, I’d call it ‘TechnoHyde.’
The show is unique in its use of set and lights. These two production elements are like characters themselves. They are integral to the story, not just decor, mood setters or diva spotlights. Jekyll’s lab is larger than life, with wires and test tubes 100 + times their normal sizes. Jeff Croiter’s lighting design is most impressive on this set, as he uses color to change the appearance of Jekyll’s potion from green to red. He uses lights as props, catalysts, and visual representations of smaller actions. Here’s me going out on my limb: at Tony Awards time. I expect to see him on the stage reading off his crumpled index card. When Scenic Designer Tobin Ost’s set is put in neutral, there are five long, thin panels that dangle from the ceiling at various heights, depending on their use. Ost uses these panels as mirrors, walls, doors, barriers, and at their most interesting, projection screens. The images cast on these screens serve as explanation, irony, plot device and portrait.
Projection Designer Daniel Brodie has incorporated technology in order to bring the audience further into the moment, unlike many other productions which attempt classic/techno fusion yet end up distracting from the heart of the show. I won’t say more because the images are plot devices and I cannot in good faith spoil any surprises just to make another clever analogy. Just know this: the set and light effects are not bells and whistles, they’re gongs and megaphones.
Tobin Ost’s costume design looks to be fashioned after the Urban Decay cosmetic line: moss green, slate gray, black and white, and an occasional red accent that evokes images of fresh blood more than fresh tomatoes. The tufts in the backs of the ladies’ dresses make obnoxious, haughty Lady Beaconsfield (the show’s comic relief portrayed by the strong and extremely watchable Blair Ross) resemble the peacock she fancies herself to be. They are perfectly period and blend with the mood.
Director Jeff Calhoun creates a nightmare for his audiences, bringing out the deepest levels of abandon in all of his actors. His staging keeps the eye moving all the time while never detracting from the intended focal point. He bottles all of the above–cast, design and music–and delivers it person-to-person. His bold, kinky, violent, tender choices are what truly make Jekyll and Hyde into more than just a show; it’s an experience one takes home and caresses until the vision of evil dissipates. I, for one, will put this in my own bottle and admire it for many years to come.
Running Time: Two hours and 15 minutes, with one intermission.
Jekyll & Hyde plays through November 24, 2012 at The John F Kennedy Performing Arts Center’s Opera House – 2700 F Street, NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call the box office at (202) 467-4600/(800) 444-1324, or purchase them online.