RedEye

All Hyde, all night in this over-the-top pre-Broadway revival

Frank Wildhorn's "Jekyll & Hyde" was never a subtle night of theater — more of a guilty, sexy pleasure, really, with high-wattage, hook-heavy power ballads that might not have had much of a connection to Robert Louis Stevenson's London (oh no), but given the right voices and a couple of pre-show cocktails, Lucy and her naughty Mister Hyde surely could make you forget the mundanity of a long work week. I have long had a soft spot for "Jekyll & Hyde," a perfectly solid, populist, enjoyable musical entertainment that constantly out-ran the critics' sniffs. For years, I would clean the house to the soundtrack, tidying up to "Someone Like You," loading the dishwasher to "This is the Moment."

"A new life," I'd sing to no one in particular, channeling Linda Eder, albeit accompanied only by the sound of the vacuum. "What I wouldn't give to have a new life!"

I never got one. But we do have "Jekyll & Hyde" back — a trashy new production directed by Jeff Calhoun in its final pre-Broadway engagement before opening in New York in April. It's replete with Constantine Maroulis, the original Broadway star of "Rock of Ages," as the Janus-like Doc, and the Canadian R&B singer Deborah Cox as Lucy, that classic sentimental hooker. This new revival, seemingly destined for Las Vegas, where entertainment can be foreplay, has a design from Tobin Ost that feels inspired not by Victorian literature but by sadomasochistic dungeons. Nary a scene goes by, it seems, without someone tying somebody else up. Even the pastiche number, "Bring On the Men," originally a light-hearted invitation sung by Lucy, a hooker at peace with her work before things got too bad, is now staged with everyone tied up with rope.

Bondage is one thing once Mister Hyde is ascendant; the show always has offered folks a little Saturday night slap-and-tickle on the dark side. But the fundamental problem with this campy production is that by going full-on gothic Grand Guignol right from the get-go, it misses the one crucial thing this show always needs — whether it's being produced on Broadway, on tour or (in a very fine production, years ago) at the University of Evansville. Which is duality. I mean, it ain't complex. You got Jekyll's world — earnest, frustrating, romantic, cerebral. You got Hyde's world — dark, sexual, violent, ooh ... attractive. This new production goes right to Hyde-land. Even the first image, when Dr. J encounters his poor father stretched on a rack in an asylum, motivating his angst, is like something from a Halloween house of horrors. And thus you don't get to know Jekyll, you don't feel rooted in any kind of normative world, and thus you can't care about the fellow, nor his women. The visual conceit totally kills the suspense of Hyde's arrival. The whole show is so busy gearing up for him stylistically, it forgets that he is actually supposed to be a surprise to everyone. Even himself.

So what to do before Broadway? Well, it wouldn't be a bad idea to invite, say, a nun off the street and have her clean out a few of the toys and weird scenic contraptions. Have her take some of the flaming video too — then there might be room for some legitimate choreography and more personal connections. As any great lover will tell you, when the props and contraptions are ruling the roost, rather than good, old-fashioned passion, you might as well pack it in.

The great strength of this show is its score. And in Cox, who is by far the best thing about this "Jekyll & Hyde," the production has a terrific singer and a sexy, perfectly respectable actress offering a character with that feels fresh enough for the post-Beyonce era but also vulnerable. Cox, who brings out Maroulis' best stuff when her body is attached to him, will emerge smelling like a rose on Broadway. So will Teal Wicks, who totally transforms Emma Carew from the old insipid interpretation into a lusty Victorian woman ready to fight for her man; well, for half of him. But boy, do these fine ladies have to step over some twisted shtick.

And Maroulis? Well, you can't get mad at him because he's sweet and earnest. And he offers some laughs. My favorite is the bit where his famously ample locks totally cover his face and he says "What is this creature?" "It's your hair," I wanted to shout back. Maroulis really has to make his Hyde less creepy-weird (that Brit-rocker accent doesn't help) and more creepy-sexy. He could do this, I think. Maroulis is a decent talent with a formidable pop voice. But his default here is Stacee Jaxx of "Rock of Ages," a glancing blow, when he needs to be commanding in a high-status, charming-but-deadly kind of way.

Sure, freshen it all up. But without that old, legit gravitas in the Hyde cocktail, both vocally and theatrically, you feel more queasy than drunk on dangerous possibility. And without that change, the show won't work in its proven way.

cjones5@tribune.com

Twitter@ChrisJonesTrib

When: Through March 24

Where: Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph St.

Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes

Tickets: $33-$95 at 800-775-2000 and broadwayinchicago.com

Copyright © 2015, RedEye
Related Content
  • Marrow's 'The Gold Standard' raises the Chicago rock bar

    Marrow's 'The Gold Standard' raises the Chicago rock bar

    The four musicians in Marrow know quite a bit about bringing diverse influences to the table. After all, three of them, singer-guitarist Liam Kazar, singer-keyboardist Macie Stewart and bassist Lane Beckstrom were in Kids These Days, a now-defunct septet that combined jazz, funk, rap and rock in...

  • The Kids These Days family tree

    The Kids These Days family tree

    From its 2009 beginnings to its 2013 demise, Chicago's Kids These Days seemed like one of the most promising acts the city had seen in years. While the band split up at the height of its hype, its members have since gone on to do bigger and better things—seriously impressive considering the hip-hop/rock/jazz...

  • Solid 'Gold': How ex-Kids These Days members came back stronger as Marrow

    Solid 'Gold': How ex-Kids These Days members came back stronger as Marrow

    After the dissolution of Kids These Days, the much-buzzed about Chicago fusion-jazz-rock-rap septet that split in spring 2013 just a few months after releasing its only album, “Traphouse Rock,” some of its members spent what seems like all of 20 minutes bandless. "We were driving back from the...

  • Mr Twin Sister's 'In the House of Yes' is one of last year's hidden treasures

    Mr Twin Sister's 'In the House of Yes' is one of last year's hidden treasures

    Welcome to RedEye's "Song of the Day," an ongoing feature where music reporter Josh Terry or another RedEye staff member highlights something they're listening to. Some days the track will be new, and some days it will be old. No matter what, each offering is something you should check out. Check...

  • GrubHub's weekend customer-support issues made people hangry

    GrubHub's weekend customer-support issues made people hangry

    Technical difficulties at GrubHub and Seamless over the weekend drove hordes of hangry would-be customers to air their grievances on social media. The food ordering and delivery sites, which merged in 2013 and use GrubHub’s back-end technology, errantly accepted payments on Saturday evening without...

  • One dead in Heart of Chicago after being shot by police

    One dead in Heart of Chicago after being shot by police

    A 29-year-old man died after being shot by police on the Lower West Side early Saturday, police said.

Comments
Loading
74°