The undying popularity and cult status of Frank Wildhorn’s overblown pop-rock musical Jekyll & Hyde, which is very loosely based on Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1886 novella "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," certainly makes for one of the strangest sagas in recent Broadway history.
After a Texas premiere, several recordings and a lengthy national tour, the musical finally opened on Broadway in 1997. And while it ran for an impressive four years, it somehow failed to turn a profit. It also attracted a dedicated group of fans known as the “Jekkies,” not unlike the “Rentheads.” Towards the end of its run, the production was filmed with David Hasselhoff playing the lead roles.
Unbelievably enough, it is easier to watch clips of Hasselhoff (which can be easily found on YouTube) than Jeff Calhoun’s (Newsies) reconceived, garish, extremely unnecessary and nauseating revival with Constantine Maroulis and Deborah Cox, which is playing a short run on Broadway following an extensive national tour. (Perhaps America’s other cities are more fond of Frank Wildhorn musicals.)
This is certainly the most popular show written by the critically maligned composer. While a few of the pop anthems are catchy, most especially “This is the Moment” and “Someone Like You,” the majority of the score is junk, while the book is derived good-versus-evil melodrama.
Maroulis, an “American Idol” finalist who earned a Tony nomination for his sincere, unexpectedly solid performance in Rock of Ages, uneasily alternates between being an excessively awkward and geeky Jekyll and a cheesy, oversexed Hyde. If not much else, he makes you appreciate just how much better the matinee idol-like Robert Cuccioli was in the original production.
Cox offers a distinctively smoky voice but little acting or emotion as Lucy, the hooker with a heart of gold, which may be for the better. Teal Wicks, a fine performer, gets lost in the background as Emma, Jekyll’s supportive fiancée.
This production actually arrives at what may be a turning point in Wildhorn’s career. Bonnie and Clyde, his latest musical, which ran only briefly last season, was his strongest score to date, which emphasized his ease with the rock and country genres without adding any power anthems or European pastiche. Here’s hoping we hear more of that and less of Jekyll and Hyde in his future works.