Sunday, April 27, 2014

Jekyll and Hyde


Today has been an absolute disaster. I and Normy, my companion of the heart, are tired, disheveled and about to go in search of a large pitcher of margaritas (with extra Cuervo gold) in order to deal with this ghastly evening. It started out innocently enough. I and the cast of my new Broadway spectacular, The Girl From Oz, arrived this evening at Madison Square Garden in order to provide the entertainment for the Republican party faithful while they were waiting for Arnold Schwarzenegger's speech. (Arnie was so dear - he stopped by my dressing room to suggest we work together on a film project at sometime in the future tentatively entitled Terminator IV: The Musical). At the appointed time, the lights came up, I took center stage and launched into our Physical production number. 

The place absolutely exploded. The delegates were screaming, chairs were flying and I'm sure I saw Tom Brokaw's toupee sailing over the footlights at one moment. Apparently the flesh colored body stockings on the female chorus were considered a tad risqué. John Ashcroft went so far as to storm the stage with plastic sheeting and duct tape trying to cover things up. The male chorus, with their prisoner get ups and poses based on photographs from Abu Ghraib, whatever that is, fared even worse. Dick Cheney, Karl Rove and Paul Wolfowitz were trying to physically bowl them all over in a sort of Notre Dame football flying wedge, all the while yelling 'It never happened'. I just managed to finish the number when Normy pulled me into the orchestra pit, just in time to keep me from being crushed by a large stone ten commandments monument shoved onto the stage by the Alabama delegation. We quickly departed before either of us could be injured and hurried back to our hotel. 

Once there, I felt the need to unwind with a DVD of some sort. I looked through my 'to view' stack and, as Broadway is very much on my mind along with violence and mayhem, I was pleased to find the recent release of the Broadway production of the Frank Wildhorn show, Jekyll and Hyde starring the toast of Broadway, that great musical star David Hasselhoff in the lead role. While waiting for room service to arrive with that pitcher of Margaritas, I popped that in the machine and pushed the play button, collapsing down on an ottoman to enjoy the next two hours. 

Jekyll and Hyde began its musical life as a concept album in the late 1980s with a score by composer Frank Wildhorn and lyricist Leslie Bricusse. It was recorded with Colm Wilkinson, then well known as the original Valjean in the London and New York productions of Les Miserables in the title role and Linda Eder, then Mrs. Frank Wildhorn, as the sultry and sluttish Lucy, with whom both facets of the Jekyll/Hyde personality get involved. This led to a fully realized production in the early 90s based in Houston with yet another concept album, this one more complete and with Robert Cuccioli, who played the tortured hero in the Houston production, in the lead role. Linda Eder, in her role as Mrs. Frank Wildhorn, stayed on. The show then began a notorious pre-Broadway tour which saw directors and choreographers come and go, numbers written and discarded and a show, that finally opened on Broadway in 1997, somewhat different than the original conception. 

Wildhorn, who had originally made his name writing pop songs and power ballads for people like Whitney Houston, knows the music business well, and the score (especially 'This is the Moment', 'Take Me As I Am' and 'Someone Like You') became relatively familiar through shrewd marketing, the multiple recordings (including a new original Broadway cast with Cuccioli and Eder), and its use as background music for every mid-nineties ice skating competition. This allowed the show to limp along on Broadway through the next few seasons, especially as there was strong repeat business from people who couldn't get enough nineties power ballads in their lives, affectionately known as Jekkies. 

The show is relatively simple in structure. Dr. Henry Jekyll (David Hasselhoff) is convinced that he can cure insanity through science by means of a formula that separates out and suppresses the baser forces of human nature. He is opposed by the board of governors of his hospital. He stops long enough to become engaged to the beautiful Emma (Andrea Rivette), daughter of the chairman of the board (Barrie Ingham) and to while away some time with his friend John Utterson (George Merritt) in a seedy dive where he meets the dance hall girl Lucy (Coleen Sexton). After, he goes home, sings 'This is the Moment' (without executing a triple toe loop and double axel), experiments with the formula on himself and brings forth his inner demon, Edward Hyde. Jekyll spends the rest of the show trying to put the genii back in the bottle while Hyde commits various acts of murder and mayhem. Needless to say, all does not end happily. 

As no movie sale was forthcoming, the producers of the Broadway production allowed it to be taped for telecast. Rather than bring back the original cast, the current cast (by then the third or fourth replacements) were used, explaining the headlining David Hasselhoff. Actually, he doesn't acquit himself too badly. The Jekyll/Hyde dual role is a difficult one for both singer and actor as fairly instantaneous transitions between characters must be accomplished with little more than a scrunchy to keep a mane of hair in place for Jekyll or let it hang loose for Hyde. Everything else has to come from body language and vocal quality and Hasselhoff manages to pull it off. He's not brilliant, but he's better than adequate. In the female lead of Lucy, the guttersnipe who dallies with both Jekyll and Hyde without necessarily recognizing they're the same person, Coleen Sexton is a vacancy. There's a body on stage who sometimes sings, but she brings no personality to the role. The part was structured around Linda Eder and consists of a number of Star Search vocal moments and flourishes. Ms. Eder pulled it off as, like most divas, there's something else there. A journeyman performer like Ms. Sexton gets nowhere with it. The supporting cast are skilled, but no one else has that much to do. 

The piece suffers some as all stage shows do when performed for television. How we perceive stage, a panorama with our mind choosing which little details upon which to focus, is so different from the guided close ups necessary for film. The production, taped at the Plymouth theater, is fine, but not likely to make one run out and purchase tickets to a performance. The set, a sort of red platform amongst ironwork with various pieces that fly in and out or which roll on and off, is drearily ugly. The costumes are also, in keeping with the grim tone of the piece, rather drab. 

I can't say that I didn't enjoy it, and some of the songs are true earworms which will stick in your head for days afterwards, but it's not exactly the stuff of Broadway legend. 

Electrical storm. Catatonic parent. Dancing umbrellas. Bishop toast. Wodehousian manservant. Horned chorus boy. Spitted general. Strangled society matron. Tragic wedding. 

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