Upon seeing Jean Cocteau’s classic “Beauty and the Beast,” Greta Garbo reportedly remarked, “Give me back the beast!” Nowadays, audiences should pretty much feel the same way after watching any retelling of Robert Louis Stephenson’s “Jekyll & Hyde.” Give us the beastly Mr. Hyde. After all, who goes to the theater to see nice-guy Dr. Jekyll? In the current Broadway-bound revival of Leslie Bricusse and Frank Wildhorn’s tuner, Constantine Maroulis is dangerously sexy as Hyde and nerdishly sweet at Jekyll, but vocally there’s little difference in the two. And that’s a problem.
Much of the fault lies in Kim Scharnberg’s bombastic orchestrations, which reduce every song to an anthem. Overall, Wildhorn’s score remains unremarkable, but he has written a quiet ballad or two here that stick in the ear. “In His Eyes” and “A New Life” begin lovely, but must end in a deafening explosion of sound. And that’s just the music sung by the femme love interests, Jekyll’s fiance, Emma (Teal Wicks), and prostitute Lucy (Deborah Cox)!
Before Jekyll undergoes his first transmogrification, Maroulis sings “This Is the Moment,” and the orchestration requires that he sing it full tilt. But he’s been singing full tilt for two or three songs before this. In “Rock of Ages,” Maroulis offered up this kind of vocal overkill as parody. Here, when his Jekyll nails every high note to the back wall of the huge Pantages, there’s no place left for him to go as Hyde.
Like Bram Stoker’s “Dracula,” Stephenson’s late 19th-century novel is a tale of sexual repression. Obviously, that’s a problem for contempo actresses like Wicks who have perhaps watched too many current animated movies and think the girlfriend role must be delivered as some spunky post-feminist Disney princess. It’s the late 19th century. Emma is prim and proper, and if in her first scene with Jekyll she’s open-mouth kissing (something that the old Production Code didn’t allow in Hollywood movies until the 1960s), the character offers no contrast with the whore Lucy.
As for playing a whore with a heart of gold, Cox makes it clear early on that Lucy is really a big pop diva with a throat of brass where her heart ought to be.
Helmer Jeff Calhoun and his “Newsies” designers Tobin Ost and Jeff Croiter give the dark proceedings an effective “Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” look. Especially fun is their contraption of multiple vials and tubes that hook into Jekyll’s neck and arm. This doctor doesn’t just drink some potion or shoot up. He’s ready to fuel a big 747.