The 1997 incarnation of "Jekyll & Hyde the Musical" was a critical dud on Broadway.
Having not seen that production, it's impossible to compare it to the current one now playing at the Straz Center. This may, however, be a case where ignorance is bliss, as any preconceived ideas might have spoiled a darn good show.
Frank Wildhorn originated the staged version with Steve Cuden, though that initial concept and creative teaming have seen a lot of changes over the years. The production at the Straz is part of a 25-week national tour that features Leslie Bricusse's book and lyrics and Wildhorn's music.
Based on Robert Louis Stevenson's 1886 novella, "Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," the musical tells the story of a man obsessed with nature's dualities.
Henry Jekyll (Constantine Maroulis), inspired by his father's descent into madness, seeks a way to extract evil from man. He concocts a formula that he tests on himself. Instead of ridding him of the devil inside, the strange brew brings his dark side to the forefront.
His Edward Hyde persona murders and debauches and ignores all of Jekyll's good grooming habits. Hyde eventually begins emerging without the formula, and Jekyll is left with one choice to stop his alter ego.
Maybe the timing was off when "Jekyll & Hyde" first came out. Now, with the current interest in steampunk and mixed genres, this production deserves a positive reception – especially when it goes to Broadway next spring.
Bricusse's natural and occasionally barbed dialogue give the show an unexpected freshness, with deliciously funny moments. His book emphasizes individual struggles and how those characters handle their lot. Coupled with Wildhorn's mix of classical and rock music, plus the awesome fire-and-brimstone set design, "Jekyll & Hyde" is decidedly cool.
Acting wise, Maroulis is a perfect Jekyll/Hyde. His doctor is soft-spoken and reserved, bound by frustrating convention, spectacles and a Goody band. But once Hyde and hair break loose, he is scary. While the rock-and-roll element of Hyde's volatile character and song repertoire really works, Maroulis' incessant hair flips à la Aerosmith's Steven Tyler are annoying. Yet his vocals are good, especially when he powers out "Alive!"
R&B performer Deborah Cox portrays Lucy, the hard-working, soft-hearted prostitute. Her acting is excellent, complete with well-honed cockney accent and well-timed quips to her greasy pimp, Spider (David Benoit). Her singing often has a raspy quality that doesn't quite fit. She does, however, belt out "Bring On the Men" and give a moving rendition of "Someone Like You."
Visually stunning and accessible, this musical's rebirth is well-deserved.
'JEKYLL & HYDE: THE MUSICAL'
When: 7:30 Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday and 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sunday
Where: Straz Center, 1010 N. MacInnes Place, Tampa
Tickets: $44.50 to $79.50; (813) 229-7827 and www.strazcenter.org