The entertaining, albeit hollow, re-imagined staging of Jekyll & Hyde currently playing at the Winspear might as well be titled American Idol Presents: Jekyll & Hyde. Shrugging its shoulders at the line between musical theater and a pop concert, the show brazenly encourages its stringy-haired star—AI season four finalist Constantine Maroulis—to wail, hiccup, and melisma his way through Frank Wildhorn and Leslie Bricusse’s Gothic-lite score. R&B singer Deborah Cox also stars, but she fares much better as unlucky prostitute Lucy than Maroulis does as the famously unstable doctor.
It’s not a stretch to embellish Wildhorn’s already bombastic score in this way—some of the musical’s bigger ballads had already found widespread fame before the show even landed on Broadway in 1997. “This Is The Moment” was blasted everywhere from the 1996 Olympics to the Miss America pageant, and songs like “Bring On the Men” and “Someone Like You” developed a heavy cult following thanks to the show’s groupies, affectionately known as Jekkies.
So ardent are these fans—who were out in full bustier force on opening night—that their preferences were reportedly taken into account by director/choreographer Jeff Calhoun (the man behind the hit stage adaptation of Newsies on Broadway), who restored “Men” along with Act I exposition song “I Need to Know” for this pre-Broadway tour. To help balance the desires of rabid musical theater fans with the casually interested and easily distracted MTV and Glee crowd, the show’s inherent campiness has been ramped up to the point of pure spectacle.
And that’s where Maroulis comes in. Yes, he has a Tony nomination for his role in Rock of Ages (which rolled through Dallas with him two years ago). And yes, he trained at The Boston Conservatory. But it’s a stretch to deem him an actor or even a solid musical theater personality based on this performance. His high tenor carries the powerhouse notes admirably enough, but an annoying habit of gasping loudly before each lyric and a mumbley British accent make appreciating his obvious efforts more difficult than it should be. He loosens considerably when embodying the scientist’s evil alter ego, but that’s only because his strutting, hair-tossing Edward Hyde could double as the lead singer of a Poison cover band. Suddenly the previous Broadway casting of Skid Row frontman Sebastian Bach and “big in Germany” David Hasselhoff in the title role(s) makes much more sense.
Cox, on the other hand, is a delightful surprise. Her only prior Broadway credit was a stint in Elton John’s Aida, yet she commands the stage as gracefully as original leading lady Linda Eder. Able to dig out the tiny nuggets of humor buried within Bricusse’s melodramatic dialogue, Cox switches easily between flippant lady of the evening and earnest, yearning woman. Her powerful vocals are bolstered by this genuine foundation, helping the contemporary delivery feel signature rather than jarring. The duet “In His Eyes” between Cox and Teal Wicks, a former Elphaba in Wicked who plays Jekyll’s demure fiancé Emma, is one of the night’s truly satisfying moments.
Calhoun’s sexy and inventive staging offers a fresh take on a show that has seemingly been in a constant state of revisal since 1990. Particularly effective is “Façade,” the number which introduces the snooty hospital board responsible for striking down Jekyll’s proposed experiments. Through deliberate misdirection, it slyly toys with the audience’s pre-conceived notions of class and refinement. Tobin Ost’s sets and costumes, appropriately overblown and working in tandem with Jeff Croiter’s flashy lighting, benefit greatly from Daniel Brodie’s creepy projections.
Beginning with a blooming cloud of smoke that undulates and ripples on the pre-show curtain and continuing with an eerie, lurking silhouette of Hyde at intermission, the projection design only falters during the climatic showdown song between Jekyll and Hyde. Usually an invitation for the leading man to display his part-switching prowess in a lightning-quick musical back and forth, here Maroulis stays Jekyll while his pre-recorded Hyde taunts him from a portrait. It feels like a disappointing cop-out, largely because it’s the only scene where the projections spiral from subtle to garish. It also highlights the fact that Maroulis isn’t truly engaging in an internal battle of good and evil but rather shouting at a wall. No matter the amount of fancy tech tricks or desperate vocal slides the show possesses, it’s hard to get over something like that.