Making the story of “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” into a Broadway musical is either going to work because of the seeming incongruity of the two genres, or it’s not going to work for the exact same reason.
If the touring company is any indication, the idea is a good one, but it comes up short when actually executed, despite excellent production values, solid acting and a tunefully dark musical score.
Chuck Wagner is large in both stature and voice in the dual roles of Henry Jekyll and his libidinous alter ego (well, alter Id, actually, if you want to get Freudian), Edward Hyde. His Jekyll is a bit non-descript, driven with firm but vague passion to find a way of separating man’s good and evil parts. But, to paraphrase “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers,” bless his beautiful Hyde! All that separates the two physically is that Hyde slobbers a lot and has mussed-up hair (while Jekyll’s is pulled back in a small, anachronistic ponytail). But Hyde’s voice is more of a lecherous growl, and his physical presence on stage can be a true terror.
Wagner shows his best stuff when Jekyll and Hyde finally battle it out (in song, of course), flawlessly alternating back and forth between the characters in a rapid-fire war of words.
The supporting cast, unfortunately, don’t have much to add to the show, and that’s one of its flaws as a musical. Jekyll is engaged to the well-off Emma Carew (Kelli O’Hara), but we see very little of her. We see more of a showgirl named Lucy (Sharon Brown), whom Hyde falls for. The psychological dramas here, of Emma slowly losing her fiancee and Lucy falling in love with a man who can do her nothing but harm, have fascinating potential. But as much as “Jekyll & Hyde” wants to be a character study about hypocrisy and the dual nature of man, it’s really just a horror story that doesn’t get horrific until half-way through it.
So we have O’Hara and Brown belting out some beautiful songs with beautiful voices — but they’re songs that do nothing for the show. We have no emotional investment in these characters. Frankly, when Jekyll and Hyde aren’t warring with each other, or when Hyde’s not killing people, the show just isn’t very interesting.
As a book, it works fine. As a musical, it’s too dark, too tragic, and too devoid of meaningful characters to come across as anything more than a slasher story that’s been padded with ineffective attempts at psychological commentary. It’s a classic example of a great production of a mediocre show.
I had high hopes for this one, having listened to the soundtrack a few times and enjoying much of the music. I know it's quite popular on Broadway -- but then, "Cats" has been running for about 1,000 years, and that's still not a good show, either. Oh, well.