'Jekyll & Hyde' has good parts, bad parts Theater review: Show has personality, but lacks the menace and cohesiveness to make it a stunner.

March 28, 1996|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

Like its title characters, "Jekyll & Hyde" has a split personality.

The musical combines the period story of Robert Louis Stevenson's 1886 novella with the modern sound of pop music and an equally modern strobe-lighted scaffolding set that suggests a rock concert.

The split is emphasized as soon as you enter the Mechanic Theatre and see the curtain with the show's logo -- a lightning bolt severing the ampersand in the title. It's a fitting image for the subject, but besides the division in the personality of the title characters -- skillfully depicted by Robert Cuccioli's genteel Dr. Jekyll and bestial Edward Hyde -- the show is severed stylistically as well.

The stand-alone nature of several songs in the show by composer Frank Wildhorn and librettist Leslie Bricusse has been amply demonstrated by the use of "This Is the Moment" in various high-profile sporting events. Instead of integrating such familiar songs into the story, however, director Gregory Boyd reinforces their generic nature, repeatedly staging these big numbers with soloists standing alone on stage, belting them straight at the audience.

This is an unfortunate but not irremediable flaw in a show that has such a good subject for a musical, it's surprising no one has attempted it before. Admittedly, Stevenson's plot line is thin. But just as scores of screenwriters have done before him, Bricusse enhances the original story with a heavy dose of romance. A double dose, to be exact.

Noble Jekyll is engaged to a beautiful socialite named Lisa (Christiane Noll) and ignoble Hyde is captivated by a bawdy prostitute named Lucy (Linda Eder). Needless to say, these two women have more in common than they could possibly realize, and the musical high point of the production comes in their soaring duet, "In His Eyes."

Even in this cast of accomplished vocalists, Eder's magnificent voice is unparalleled, but Noll has no trouble keeping up with her. Still, it's a shame that once again director Boyd ends this number with both singers facing front as if they were in a concert, instead of a musical.

Besides the romantic angle, Bricusse's libretto augments the body count of Stevenson's text and gives Hyde a more clearly defined motive than mere villainy for villainy's sake. Hyde kills those who thwarted Jekyll's scientific experiments -- the hospital board of governors who wouldn't allow him to experiment on a mental patient, forcing him to become his own guinea pig.

Most of these murders occur during the second-act opening number, aptly titled, "Murder, Murder!" But as is the case in much of the production, these heinous crimes lack tension -- perhaps because we don't really know or care about the victims. But then, even an 11th-hour murder that should be a spine-tingler feels more predictable than frightening.

Getting a musical to Broadway is more difficult than ever nowadays, but even so, this one has had a longer and more involved history than most. Baltimore is the last stop on a 35-week national tour that was to have culminated in a Broadway opening next month.

Instead, Broadway has been postponed until fall, which may be fortunate because there is still work to be done. That work will include new scenery, which may help dispel the rock concert aura. There's also going to be a new director -- ideally, one who can infuse the action with a sense of menace and drama instead of mere Gothic melodrama.

"Jekyll & Hyde" already has plenty of audience-pleasing elements -- from its strong melodies to the strong voice of Eder, who is clearly a Broadway star waiting to be born. And, judging from the popularity of such shows as "The Phantom of the Opera," "Beauty and the Beast" and "Victor/Victoria" (which also has lyrics by Bricusse), the dual-personality theme is hot stuff on Broadway.

But before "Jekyll & Hyde" joins the ranks of these successful precursors, it needs to find the formula that will unleash more of the dangerous power lurking in Stevenson's story.

'Jekyll & Hyde'

Where: Morris A. Mechanic Theatre, Hopkins Plaza

When: 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, with matinees at 2 p.m. Wednesdays and Saturdays, and 3 p.m. Sundays. Through April 7

Tickets: $32.50-$52.50

Call: (410) 625-1400

Pub Date: 3/28/96

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