After the rigors of "Titanic," "Steel Pier" and "The Life," "Jekyll & Hyde" Leslie Bricusse and Frank Wildhorn's musical adaptation of the Robert Louis Stevenson story of a man exploring his animal nature looked good.
Unlike the other musicals, which adhered, however weakly, to the traditions developed in the American theater over many decades, "Jekyll & Hyde" is very much in the British mold.
Britstyle means that the story comes with Classics Illustrated foreshortening. Character and plot are rudimentary. The music is lush and appealing, and the lyrics are more than a little silly. (Bricusse rhymes "demon" with "Dream on" and has Jekyll sing: "What is this thing inside of me?/What evil force makes Edward Hyde of me?")
What such successful British musicals as "Phantom" and "Les Miz" have done is to restore 19th-century melodrama to a theater that imagined it had outgrown such things.
The audience, though, never outgrew them. It never cottoned to the cerebralization of the American musical that occurred before the British onslaught. There are, in fact, fascinating undercurrents to a story that examines Victorian sexual repression, that pre-figures Freud's idea of the id, but Britstyle precludes too much meaning.
"Jekyll" is, of course, pure melodrama. Dr. Jekyll, an upper-class physician in Victorian London, thwarted in his attempts to use terminal patients to study the bestial underbelly of human nature, experiments on himself, becoming Mr. Hyde, who hurts and even kills without guilt.
On a foray through the underworld, the upstanding Jekyll meets and falls in love with a prostitute, Lucy. It is Hyde, however, who has a liaison with her. When she asks Jekyll to treat the bruises she has suffered and tells him who inflicted them, Jekyll realizes Hyde has a life of his own. Jekyll tries to warn her of the danger she is in, but the misanthropic, misogynistic Hyde succeeds in murdering her.
As with any melodrama, in pure prose we might be appalled, but with Wildhorn's sometimes syrupy, sometimes grandiose but always melodic music, we can swallow a lot more. Several numbers notably "This Is the Moment" and "Someone Like You" are genuinely moving.
Robin Phillips has directed and designed the show in the grand manner it requires and has drawn superb performances from his cast.
Robert Cuccioli, who has the looks and talent of an old-fashioned matinee idol and whom I have admired since the revival of "The Rothschilds" in 1990, is sensational in the title roles, especially in "Confrontation," in which he alternates between his two natures smashingly.
Linda Eder sings forcefully (admittedly with echo-chamber assistance) and acts well enough as the hapless Lucy. Christiane Noll sings enchantingly as Jekyll's upper-class fiance. There is strong work by George Merritt as his close friend and Barrie Ingham as his prospective father-in-law.
Like Phillips' evocative sets, Ann Curtis' costumes capture the period beautifully. Beverly Emmons' lighting adds immensely to the drama.
"Jekyll & Hyde" may be campy. It may be derivative of all sorts of other musicals, but it has its own power.
A musical in which the hero is little better than a well-dressed Victorian werewolf? A musical finally making it to Broadway after a concept CD has been around for years in developmental limbo?
Evidently so, for last night, at the Plymouth Theater, the brave but unfortunately clunky "Jekyll & Hyde," with book and lyrics by Leslie Bricusse, music by Frank Wildhorn and a splendidly virtuosic performance by Robert Cuccioli, took its first bow. Or, in deference to its hero's dichotomous nature, perhaps we should say "its first two bows."
In 1886, Robert Louis Stevenson's novella "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" struck a chord, and it has been striking it at regular intervals, in differing tonalities, ever since.
The dual nature of man -- and Stevenson's excursion preceded the wholesale explorations of latter-day psychiatrists into that capacity for good and evil -- in one schizophrenic soul had not passed the likes of Shakespeare completely unnoticed.
But Stevenson, with his combination of puritanical Victorian Gothic horror and expansive Victorian popular science, as well as a prose style whose unvarnished elegance would have credited Defoe, gave that duality a literary life of its own that has never ceased to fascinate.
Stevenson's work was not even two years old when a man called Sullivan adapted it for the American stage, shrewdly adding a love interest and making it a staple in the repertoire of Richard Mansfield until shortly before the actor's death in 1907.
Other stage versions followed; later, there were the movies, including a silent with John Barrymore and two famous talkies, the first with Fredric March and the second, and better, with Spencer Tracy.
So the horror story just won't lie down, although this present, clumsy musical is not likely to galvanize its life. If it's perhaps impossible to make a totally dull thing out of this clinical tale, Bricusse's diffuse book and banal lyrics matched with Wildhorn's florid music come perilously close.
The book of the musical has more in common with the movie versions than the far cooler original, even though a few of Stevenson's characters, mostly differently employed, remain. Bricusse's difficulty has been in giving his narrative any smooth flow, so the story huffs and puffs along predictably but not revealingly.
Nor are his lyrics of any particular grace, while Wildhorn's music achieves what some must have thought impossible -- it seems faintly, and perhaps not sufficiently, derivative of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Claude Michel Schonberg, the latter particularly in his "Les Miserables" mode.
In fairness, Stephen Sondheim is not entirely neglected, for the ensemble number "Facade" at the musical's opening and close sounds as though it could well be a socially aware reject from "Sweeney Todd."
There is an anthem-like lyricism here -- good stuff for ice-skating and the like -- but this seems music that, while dutifully, even desperately, plucking at the heartstrings, never touches the heart.
Robin Phillips, who has not only directed the musical with adroit smoke and mirrors but, with James Noone, been responsible for the inventive and sharply stylized stage design, has also done a good job in tying together Bricusse's very scrappy book and in eliciting generally sharp performances.
The look of the show is unexpectedly tasteful. Ann Curtis' costumes reveal a period flair; Beverly Emmons' lighting proves helpfully atmospheric; and whatever Christina Poddubuik provided under the heading of "Properties and Set Dressing," she appears to have provided well.
Few of the characters are permitted to stand out from the crowd, although the ever-stalwart Barrie Ingham brings dignity to Sir Danvers Carew (Hyde's murder victim in Stevenson, here transformed into the father of Jekyll's fiancee!); and Christiane Noll and, most particularly, a spirited and sexy Linda Eder do respectively fine as -- again, unknown to Stevenson – Jekyll/Hyde's sacred and profane loves.
The truly notable performance fortunately, comes whence it must to give the show a chance: Robert Cuccioli's chillingly brilliant and schizoid Jekyll/Hyde.
As, from accounts, Mansfield did before him, Cuccioli uses no makeup or devices for his transformation from a stern, Javert-like Jekyll to a nastily slavering Hyde. His voice is strong -- he has the ice-skater hit "This is the Time" to sing, and whether it's the time, it certainly is the voice! -- and his handsome presence is sinisterly compelling.
This is not that much of a musical, but Cuccioli, Eder and Phillips do their best to make that "not that much" appear markedly more, and they deserve all the luck I sincerely wish them.
"Jekyll & Hyde" is not nearly as good as "Les Miz," but it is not so far down the same food chain that it couldn't find an audience. It will doubtless be waiting anxiously for the Tonys and tourists.
It's only a ponytail that separates man from beast in ''Jekyll and Hyde,'' the leaden, solemnly campy musical that opened on Broadway at the Plymouth Theater last night, after a cult-making national tour and two recordings of its score that have already sold 250,000 copies.
As long as the earnest, dedicated Dr. Henry Jekyll (Robert Cuccioli) keeps his shoulder-length hair pulled back, he has the bearing of an animated corpse and the precise but anxious diction of someone to whom English is a second language. But once he takes off the rubber band (or barrette, or whatever they used back then) and lets those locks go wild to become the cruel Edward Hyde, he acquires a hunch, a snarl and a much improved singing voice.
If there were a Tony award for best use of a head of hair (and why shouldn't there be?), it would definitely go to Mr. Cuccioli, who even sings a duet with himself with lightning-quick adjustments of his coiffure. That's about the only original element in this plastic monster assembly kit of a musical, which arrives with a guaranteed audience of devotees known as Jeckies.
A large part of the appeal of the show, which has music by Frank Wildhorn with book and lyrics by Leslie Bricusse, may be its very familiarity to people accustomed to getting their entertainment through other media, often on the fly. First of all, it doesn't require your undivided attention, since it keeps saying the same things, with the slightest variations, over and over again.
What it says, and the ways it says it, often suggests the kind of staid costume horror movies with English accents that are usually shown on television only after midnight. (''Jekyll and Hyde'' has lines like ''Henry, you are obsessed with your father's condition,'' and such lyrics as ''When all this began, we knew there'd be a price to pay.'')
Mr. Wildhorn's pop-opera score, which makes ''Sunset Boulevard'' sound like ''Parsifal,'' is most notable for shivery musical vamps found in films like ''The Omen'' and a generic inspirational swell that politicians and athletes like to have soaring in the background as a sort of apotheosizing halo of sound. (The show's big anthem, ''This Is the Moment,'' in which Jekyll sings about the time when ''all the dreaming, scheming and screaming become one,'' has appropriately been played at the Olympics, the Miss America Pageant and the 1996 Democratic Convention.)
The overall effect is like having the television and the radio (set to a ''lite'' station) on at the same time. And when a favorite, well-known number comes around, the show thoughtfully turns up the volume for you.
You know the plot, of course: not so much from Robert Louis Stevenson's original, still fascinating novella (there were no love interests in it) as from the various embroidered movie adaptations with stars like Fredric March and Spencer Tracy.
In this incarnation, the brilliant doctor Henry Jekyll is inspired to experiment with isolating good from evil in the human soul by the sad fate of his mad father. Torn between his chaste, upper-class fiancee, Emma (Christiane Noll), and Lucy (Linda Eder), a prostitute and chanteuse who is at least willing to kiss a guy on the mouth, he splits into two personalities and . . . surely, you have the picture.
Most of the first act is devoted to explaining that everyone has a dark, hidden side (its most reprised number is titled ''Facade''). Jekyll discourses on the theme in a lecture; the chorus, whose choreography (by Joey Pizzi) seems to consist largely of bending over and pointing portentously, wails about hypocrisy, and when Jekyll first sees the luscious Lucy, who looks like a model for Victoria's Secret, she is performing an oddly philosophical nightclub routine called ''Good 'n' Evil.''
In the second act, Hyde the alter ego takes over and goes around killing people who, in this version, are mean-spirited patricians who pretty much deserve what they get. Mr. Cuccioli, who is nearly unbearable as Jekyll, seems to have a much better time as Hyde, and so does the audience.
Ms. Eder, who originated her part and has already acquired a following, has a big, gliding voice that suggests she spent a lot of time listening to Barbra Streisand records when she was growing up. However, Ms. Noll, whose light soprano voice is more restrained and less mannered, actually comes closer to creating a fully integrated character. The evening's musical high point lets the women sing in counterpoint in an appealingly syrupy duet called ''In His Eyes.''
The work is directed with a doggedly straight face by Robin Phillips, who also shares credit (with James Noone) for the design of the production's blood-red-accented scenery, which tends to slide away into the wings when the show's stars are singing important solos. There are a couple of scenes with real fire and many more with synthetic fog that creeps on and off the stage, rather like a wandering attention span. It is easy to sympathize with the fog.