March 7, 2013
It has been 14 years since I spent some quality time with hard-core Jekkies. But I haven't forgotten.
The place was the Fisher Theatre in Detroit. The show was the touring production of Frank Wildhorn's "Jekyll & Hyde," replete with the square-jawed, irony-free, big-piped Chuck Wagner in the starring role.
This was not the first tour of "Jekyll & Hyde." Under the direction of Robin Phillips, the musical based on the Robert Louis Stevenson novella had played Chicago before its Broadway run of 1,543 performances (or almost four years).
By 1999, the show had acquired a cult following, mixed reviews notwithstanding. It was not so much due to anything in the Stevenson novella as the famously timeless, lush, romantic Wildhorn power ballads, as first performed by Linda Eder, Wildhorn's ex-wife, whose voice was the perfect match. Sticky songs like "Take Me as I Am," "Someone Like You," "A New Life" and, most of all, "This Is the Moment" whipped those Jekkies into quite the frenzy that night in Detroit.
Wagner, the recipient of much of that adulation, loved every minute.
On Thursday night, "Jekyll & Hyde" (book and lyrics by the great Leslie Bricusse) arrives back in Chicago. As was the case the first time around, it's a pre-Broadway tour, this time replete with the stars Constantine Maroulis (who has the right hair for the role) and Deborah Cox. On April 5, this very production begins performances on Broadway.
"It's the gift that keeps on giving," Wildhorn said of his baby in a phone interview last week. "It seemed to hit a chord."
Indeed. Composer Wildhorn, who went on to write the likes of "Dracula, the Musical," "Wonderland" and "Bonnie and Clyde" (he has had eight Broadway openings), certainly knows the word "flop" as well as "hit."
But unlike many on Broadway, he has a fine sense of humor about his checkered reputation with New York critics, a wry amusement buoyed, of course, by his security in the massive popularity of his songs, especially the songs from this particular show: "This Is the Moment" has been recorded hundreds, if not thousands, of times by all kinds of recording artists in most major markets of the world.
In fact, Wildhorn was one of the first major theater artists to understand that there was a massive market for Broadway shows thousands of miles away from Broadway, a bandwagon upon which very many have belatedly jumped. And he figured out that tastes are different in Berlin and South Korea and, in many cases, far more sympathetic to his kind of show.
So rather than worry too much about Broadway, he also comes up with shows that can live without New York. He has a production of "Cyrano" that premiered in Tokyo. He has a version of "The Count of Monte Cristo" that opened in Switzerland.
"Really, a giant part of my career is international," Wildhorn said. "They love big orchestras and a melodic sweep in Asia, even though that is not necessarily what is vogue in America right now. So I have learned to divide my career. I have European scenario, an Asian scenario, an American scenario."
That said, "Jekyll & Hyde" has done well — very well — in all of those scenarios. In 1998, a $33 million theater got built in Bremen, Germany, mostly because there was a chance to snag "Jekyll & Hyde."
Wildhorn says the revival, directed by Jeff Calhoun, was not his idea. He said he was approached by the Nederlander Organization and agreed to what he calls "a re-imagination." There are no big new numbers, but if you know the show well, you'll likely notice some differences, especially in the early part of Act 2, which has been partially rewritten.
Wildhorn says that once the show gets a reaction from Chicago, more work is planned. He points out that Maroulis and Cox represent a new generation of singers who approach these songs differently from, say, Eder and Wagner.
A "Jekyll & Hyde" movie is planned. That will be a first for Wildhorn.
"You know, despite all the slings and arrows that come my way, I have a lot of fun," he says. "As a selftaught musician, I never dreamed my music would have this effect. And at the end of the day, my kids are great, my friends are great, and we employ tens of thousands of people around the world."
'Jekyll & Hyde'
When: Tuesday through March 24
Where: Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph St.
Tickets: $33-$95 at 800-775-2000 and broadwayinchicago.com
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