Jekyll & Hyde

Let's face it: you probably know already whether or not you want to see JEKYLL & HYDE. The show's composer, Frank Wildhorn, tends not to inspire mild or indifferent opinions, and if you're a regular New York theatergoer, you've had plenty of recent opportunities to sample his work--- from WONDERLAND to DRACULA to BONNIE AND CLYDE.

And JEKYLL & HYDE, which ran on Broadway for nearly four years in the 1990's, stands as the epitome of a Wildhorn show: a broad, unapologetic pop score with lots of costume changes and a tidy moral theme. It even has its own cult following, spawned by a concept album and a string of productions that predated its arrival in New York. Some of its power ballads have hit the mainstream charts, and just a few months ago, a film version was announced. So, dear reader, I was all set to become a "Jekkie," as the hard-core fans call themselves. As the lights went down at the cavernous Marquis Theater, I solemnly vowed that I would enjoy myself, even if it proved a guilty pleasure.

That didn't quite happen. The fog machine started working overtime, and the lyrical cliches started piling up, and the unpleasant realization set in that Wildhorn and his book writer, Leslie Bricusse, had stretched Robert Louis Stevenson's modest novella into an unbearably long and bombastic rock thriller without thrills. Indeed, I began to wonder whether JEKYLL & HYDE might work as an unintentional camp classic, "Rocky Horror"-style, and that maybe if I tried, I could come up with a few solid ideas for audience interaction.

But JEKYLL & HYDE is just too loud for that, and while its score has a few undeniably memorable songs ("Someone Like You," "A New Life"), it's mostly an over-amplified, repetitive mush in a minor key. The lyrics ("To help me see a world I've never seen before / A love to open every door / To set me free, So I can soar!") have an aggressive blandness that would barely meet the low expectations of even the most generic radio pop songs. I'll assume you know the story--- a good man turns into an evil man with the help of a potion; horror ensues--- but based on the evidence here, it doesn't warrant a two-and-a-half hour running time.

The production is saved, somewhat, by the performances. As the title character(s), pop star Constantine Maroulis boasts a durable tenor that breezes through the almost impossibly rough demands of Wildhorn's hard-charging score. He loves his voice as much as you do, though, and this can lead to some excessive grace notes, "American Idol"-style, that tarnish his rendition of Jekyll's tuneful soliloquy, "This is the Moment." Deborah Cox, meanwhile, is almost comically miscast as Lucy, the prostitute with a heart of gold who wedges her way into Jekyll's life after being abused by Hyde. Cox is far too certain and self-possessed for the role, and if she and Maroulis were to jump into the boxing ring, you'd be crazy not to put your money on a first-round knockout from Cox. It doesn't really matter, though, since Lucy is little more than a plot device, and since Cox sings so peacefully. As an "r & b" star, she seems to have an instinctive feel for Wildhorn's music. (Her dutiful cockney accent disappears as soon as the songs start, which is probably all for the better.)

Stevenson's novella, published in 1886 and adapted over 150 times since then, has been variously interpreted as a Christian allegory, a Freudian tract, and an examination of civilization versus animal nature. This is a far cry from JEKYLL & HYDE's rather less exalted message, which is that, oh, you know, deep down, people just aren't what they seem to be. Or, as an unusually lively lyric puts it: "Every day People, in their own sweet way / Like to add a coat of paint / And be what they ain't!"

But seriously: whatever. It's a Frank Wildhorn musical.