This theater publicity image released by The Hartman Group shows Deborah Cox during a performance of “Jekyll & Hyde” playing at the Marquis Theatre in New York. (AP Photo/The Hartman Group, Chris Bennion)
NEW YORK (AP) — Yes, it is bombastic and overwrought. It’s true that there’s enough smoke to make three Whitesnake videos. OK, it sometimes makes “The Phantom of the Opera” seem small and staid.
But there’s something to cheer about in the revival of “Jekyll & Hyde” that has rolled into Broadway after a 25-week national tour. It is what it is, and it does that very well. It’s a big, loud rock opera and makes no apologies for itself. Nor should it. If you wanted a subtle musical without stabbings and bondage, what exactly are you doing at “Jekyll & Hyde”?
The new version that opened Thursday at the Marquis Theatre — arriving 16 years after its debut — takes itself so seriously that it almost veers into camp, but it’s a stunningly beautiful steampunk vision with great costumes, projections and sets.
Plus, the three main vocalists who came along to sing these Frank Wildhorn songs will make your ears bleed: Constantine Maroulis, Deborah Cox and Teal Wicks. Who cares if there’s way too much lightening and overacting? These three can deliver, some even while wearing naughty Victorian outfits.
Director and choreographer Jeff Calhoun — so apple-cheeked with “Newsies” and trying-to-be-understanding in Wildhorn’s recent “Bonnie & Clyde” — has tapped into his Hyde side with this overripe tale of a scientist whose attempt to isolate the bad element in man leads to a split personality. There’s a little bondage, a pretty graphic suicide, some slapping around, filthy hookers, rough sex and five cold-blooded murders. Leave the kids at home.
Maroulis, the former “American Idol” contestant who earned a Tony Award nomination for “Rock of Ages,” proves a gifted singer if not the most nuanced of actors in the title role. His hair — ponytailed as the gentleman Jekyll and free-flowing when he becomes the hedonistic Hyde — gets a workout. (He also, Clark Kent-ish, wears glasses when he’s mild-mannered.) This guy, reared in “Rock of Ages,” can toss his mane around better than any 1980s hair-band singers.
Allow Maroulis this: He gives it his all, whether it’s nailing the anthem “This is the Moment” or being exceedingly menacing with a cane. He might have to say dopey things like “I started this alone and I must finish it alone,” but he does it with purpose and careful diction. An exhausted man gets the big applause at the end. He deserves it. He should get two paychecks.
Cox, an award-winning R&B singer who plays a put-upon brothel worker, is both sexy and touching as a love interest for both Jekyll and Hyde. She delivers a jaded, bum-slapping “Bring on the Men” and then a touching “Someone Like You,” her voice soaring so stunningly that it seems to open a new dimension. Wicks is luminous in the underwritten part of Jekyll’s fiancee but still manages to lend some glamor and skill to the part. Both women deliver a knockout duet “In His Eyes.”
But perhaps the star of the show is Tobin Ost, the scenic and costume designer who has a history of working with Calhoun. His buildings here are appropriately off-kilter, his walls are futuristic and he deploys five massive picture frames that become mirrors, paintings and brick walls, or whatever a clever Daniel Brodie decides to project on them.
Ost’s use of long strings during one scene — inside a brothel called, aha, The Spider’s Web — is a playful stroke. He then turns the rump of that set into Jekyll’s laboratory, complete with bubbling, glowing vials and tubes. Appropriate for a story about a man who wears two hats, Ost also has created the smashing costumes, dark Victorian exaggerations with Goth references that showcase garters, suspenders, white crisp shirts, foppery and hats.
The sets and costumes all come together thrilling in the Act 1 song “Facade,” in which five odd people appear in their underwear and are then dressed by their servants to slowly emerge in their societal roles — a priest, a soldier, a lord, a lady and a lawyer. Pity they all must die.
Sometimes when watching “Jekyll & Hyde” there are moments when it seems like what you’re watching is outtakes from “This Is Spinal Tap.” But that’s this show’s charm. You’ll always be of two minds about it, so just give in to the silly side.