Wednesday, March 13, 2013

A Split Decision in Favor of 'Jekyll & Hyde' -- Chicago Theater Review

Theater Review

Jekyll & Hyde: The Musical
Cadillac Palace Theatre, Chicago
Thru March 24

First the good side: The stage musical version of Jekyll & Hyde, derived from Robert Louis Stevenson's novella, composed by Frank Wildhorn with book & lyrics by Leslie Bricusse, originally staged in 1990 and headed back to Broadway on April 5--where it ran for 1,543 performances between 1997-2001--has enough good songs to accompany its storyline to make for an enjoyable evening of entertainment, especially for just the $10 it cost me as part of my Broadway in Chicago balcony club subscription.

Bringing solid stage credits in addition to being an American Idol finalist--I saw him in Rent before reality TV brought him fame; he subsequently earned a Tony nomination for Rock of Ages--Constantine Maroulis is solid in the title roles, even if his voice has more of a rock edge than perfect Broadway timbre.

Even better were the show's two leading ladies: Deborah Cox as a prostitute that Hyde seeks and Teal Wicks as Emma, Jekyll's true better half-to-be. Both are lovely to look at, even through binoculars, and displayed beautiful voices that dazzled well into the upper reaches of the Cadillac Palace.

Photo Credit: Chris Bennion
Despite Wildhorn's stature as a songwriter long seeming to fall short--among critics and musical theater snobs--of the success he's enjoyed with Jekyll & Hyde, The Scarlet Pimpernel and other Broadway shows, songs such as "Façade," "Take Me As I Am," "Bring on the Men," "This is the Moment," "Once Upon a Dream" and "In His Eyes" have nothing to apologize for, particularly the way Maroulis, Cox and Wicks delivered them.

To finish up the good, or Dr. Jekyll, side, the new, headed-to-Broadway production of a work I first saw in 2000--in the throes of my musical theater re-fascination--should be quite pleasing to the many ardent admirers of this much-more-popular-with-the-people-than-the-critics musical, and given its strong cast and production values, it should satisfy anyone who just wants to take in a large-scale musical in a downtown theater. I liked it more than I didn't.

Now for the bad side, Mr. Hyde: This isn't Les Misérables, My Fair Lady nor in a somewhat similarly macabre vein, Stephen Sondheim's Sweeney Todd. You will hear nothing approaching the imaginative resplendence of that show's "A Little Priest."

Thus, though it is no small accomplishment to create a cohesively enjoyable musical with several sweet-sounding songs, Jekyll & Hyde cannot be considered brilliant, one of my favorite musicals nor one of the best.

Photo Credit: Chris Bennion
Without needlessly piling on what Chris Jones of the Tribune describes as Wildhorn's "checkered reputation with New York critics" or what the composer himself calls "all the slings and arrows that come my way," it isn't hard to hear a good measure of schmaltz, even schlock, in the Jekyll & Hyde score. Of course, director Jeff Calhoun's overly bombastic take on some of the closing scenes--where Jekyll and Hyde acutely collide--doesn't help.

If you are a musical purist, or well, snob, you might cringe at a song as over-the-top and irony-free as "This is the Moment."

And in scribbling a few notes during the show for this review, when Jekyll and Emma dueted on "Take Me as I Am," I wrote, "Sweet. Saccharine."

Certainly, this show about split personalities does straddle two sides: Tuneful and Tawdry. Moving and Melodramatic. Solidly enjoyable but lacking depth & subtlety. Good, but likely fleeting. Worthwhile but not essential.

Fortunately, thanks to Jekyll & Hyde being listed on HotTix for all of this week's remaining performances, the show's full-price tickets are also, appropriately, split in half. So if you want to see it, you needn't be conflicted. You could even go by yourself and with someone else, all at once.

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