By JOHN DeMERS
In more ways than one, each generation gets the musical it deserves. And in the case of better, more successful musicals that take on a certain iconic status, that could mean a fall from grace, for a while or forever. For a wandering, never-quite-there musical like Frank Wildhorn’s Jekyll & Hyde, however, that might mean showing up as one thing the first time and coming back later as something else.
Thus we have the latest edition, built around handsome American Idol runner-up Constantine Maroulis, now on display at the Hobby Center via Theatre Under The Stars. “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” by Robert Louis Stevenson may be one of the greatest stories ever told. But this is far, far from one of the greatest musicals ever heard.
Yes, the show has two significant female roles – the strumpet Lucy played by Deborah Cox and the nice girl Emma played by Teal Wicks (yet another duality!) – but the evening belongs to Maroulis. After all, he gets to sing the best song, “This Is the Moment,” and he gets to have the most fun running, jumping, swaggering and snarling. His acting, in fact, is quite persuasive as the now-famous dual sides of a single personality. Maroulis plays the soft-spoken London doctor perfectly well, but then does even better as the leering Troy Polamalu of a big-hair Mr. Hyde.
The trouble with this role, however, is the trouble with the entire show: it’s one breathy showstopper after another, except that some of Wildhorn’s songs couldn’t stop a Slinky. Nothing is merely pretty, nothing is merely funny, nothing is merely useful; each time Maroulis opens his mouth, he’s screaming and shouting for the top of the Hit Parade. With his high-pitched, high-volume rock voice, the whole thing ends up being “Guy Songs” by somebody like Andrew Lloyd Webber, as sung by somebody like Aerosmith’s Stephen Tyler.
Sadly, the girls have it even worse. Any one of their songs could be a hit – and indeed several have been, in the distant past, for the original Lucy, Linda Eder. Songs like “Someone Like You,” “Once Upon a Dream,” “In His Eyes” and “A New Life” are all cut from the same cloth as “Defying Gravity” in Wicked – big and belty, with a huge finish full of loud drums. Truth is, in a good show, there’s only room for one “Defying Gravity,” and it had better be at the end of Act I. Despite the efforts of Cox and Wicks, Jekyll & Hyde ends up being an album of different people singing pretty much the same song.
Like everything else by Wildhorn, this “new concept” of the show is eternally on its way to Broadway, and it does have some things to recommend it. There are plenty of projections, for instance; and while they may remind some of this composer’s awful Civil War that played the Alley (scruffy boys in blue and gray singing for hours in front of a Mathew Brady slide show), they are often quite effective. Stage director Jeff Calhoun – who did such a great job with Deaf West’s production of Big River – has an impressive set and much stage business to be proud of. In the end, however, this generation’s Jekyll & Hyde is another episode of American Idol. It’s cocky, contrived and conceited, every song pretending it’s the greatest moment of them all.
Photo: Deborah Cox and Co. sing ‘Bring on the Men’