Now in the final stretches of its 25-week national tour before ultimately making its sit-down Broadway transfer later this Spring, the brand-new, revamped revival of JEKYLL & HYDE - THE MUSICAL---which began life nearby at the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts back in September 2012---has finally returned to Southern California for the next few weeks, this time playing performances at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood through March 3.
JEKYLL & HYDE's origins began at the Alley Theatre in 1990 from a stage concept by Steve Cuden and the musical's composer Frank Wildhorn (which in turn was inspired by Robert Louis Stevenson's novella The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde). It was then later remounted on Broadway at the Plymouth Theatre in 1997. The Broadway production, despite mixed reviews, became a surprise hit, earning four Tony nominations and running for an impressive 1,500-plus performances, gaining fans primarily for its anthemic, emotionally-grandiose music (its showy, swelling songs like "A New Life" and "This Is the Moment" have arguably become musical theater staples among belt-happy singers and karaoke enthusiasts).
For me personally, the show (at least the versions I've experienced first-hand or via electronically-beamed visuals) has always been a genuinely intriguing idea that is, unfortunately, plagued by an overwrought, "everything-including-the-kitchen-sink" mentality. Thus, the show overall often leaves me feeling both pummeled and perplexed---though not enough to have me running out the door in a huff.
But truth be told, JEKYLL & HYDE's saving grace for me has always been the sprinkling of memorable songs I enjoy listening to, especially when placed in the throats of talented, big-voiced singers. And, yes, I can even wholeheartedly admit that I really like the way some actors belt the crap out of them (and, boy, do they do that here). But slightly like the conflicting mental struggle of its central character---though considerably less murderous---this show makes me feel torn... somewhere between an acceptable like and an ambivalent meh. So, the prospect of a new vision for this show is always cause for optimism.
And from what I can deduce from this new revival's Opening Night performance last Tuesday, there seems to be a concerted---and, sure, well-meaning---effort to try to re-jigger the show's cheesy, overstuffed theatricality and make this topsy-turvy musical as entertainingly palatable to as broad an audience as possible... well, at least to an audience that likes their musical theater as loud as an arena rock concert and as visually arresting as an expensive Vegas spectacular. Of course, there's nothing wrong with this kind of distraction theater; some work, some do not, and some are even a hoot.
For this iteration of JEKYLL & HYDE---helmed by director/choreographer Jeff Calhoun (Newsies, Bonnie & Clyde)---the narrative seems, thankfully, more simplified and streamlined than ever before. But everything else has been turned up, volume-wise, creating a show that's even more about sensory overload. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the X-Box Live version of JEKYLL & HYDE!
These extra-amplified distractions of nifty high-tech theatrical effects (oooh, look at those giant test tubes with color-changing bubbly water!), more modernized pop/rock orchestrations, and ovation-worthy, slam-dunk singing---the efforts of which, I must stress again, I do genuinely appreciate---all can't quite erase how frustratingly flawed this show has always been and perhaps always will be.
Though many songs have been reworked or rearranged in the lineup, and generous cuts were made in the rather dense book by Leslie Bricusse (who also provided lyrics to much of the songs), the musical's basic story remains intact: set in 19th Century London, it follows awkward nerd genius Dr. Henry Jekyll (Tony nominee Constantine Maroulis), a "mad scientist" (well, a timid one) whose driving quest is to find a way to chemically rid people of evil, crazy tendencies (much like the cray-cray he senses in himself and his institutionalized Papa---the latter seen at the top of show wiggling inside a straight jacket).It was a nice try, though. And, hey, at least I upgraded from a shrugging meh before to, now, a resounding, hmmm... that turned out... only okay... but, wow, those singers really, really kicked ass on these songs even more this time!