The truth is, I judge Frank Wildhorn on a completely different scale than just about anything else. Well, besides maybe a Michael Bay flick, I suppose. Because, let’s be real here, Sondheimian quality is just not the reason anyone has ever loved Frank Wildhorn. When you love Wildhorn–and it is possible to do so and still have taste–you love his bravado and bluster in all its cheesy glory. You love the epic sweep and actual craptacularity–our favorite combination of awfulness and dialed-up-to-11 bombast–of his shows for all their giggle-inducing glee.
In other words, when you love Frank Wildhorn, it’s because his work has transcended its own inherent badness to become good. To become fun. And when you hate Frank Wildhorn, it’s because his work has not transcended its own inherent badness and it does not make you giggle. It’s just boring.
The latter of which is, unfortunately, the category that the current revival of Jekyll & Hyde–now open at the Marquis Theater–falls into more often than not. Which is a damn shame. Because Jekyll & Hyde, properly directed, can ascend to such dizzying heights of horribleness as to become completely glorious. I mean. There’s a whole song called “This is the Moment.” Because duh, this is the moment. This is also the moment. And so is this.
At times, this production is truly craptacular. This particularly true in the first act, but also in the famous 11 o’clock number “Confrontation,” where everything is on fire, but there’s no actual fire, just images of explosive fire on video screens while two Constantine Maroulises duke it out for superiority inside one body (you guys!). But I digress. And I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you I laughed out loud in craptacularity-induced joy several times throughout the show. Like when Jekyll sings about seeing things “sparkle and shine” as the stage is flooded with fog. Or in any of the 600 moments when Hyde rips the scrunchie out of his Jekyll ponytail and chucks it across the stage while tossing his hair harder than a drunk, horny sorority girl on the dance floor at Sigma Nu. There were even moments where the Frank Wildhorn Ballads of Power were absolutely thrilling, though mostly that was because Constantine Maroulis and Deborah Cox can sing their damn faces off–and melt yours, too–and sometimes director Jeff Calhoun was smart enough to leave them alone, center-stage, arms thrown open in a spotlight, belting as if their lives depended on it.
But then… there was the second act. Wherein I spent much of my time staring at the ceiling, trying to decide what that mirror up there was for and wishing I were having a root canal. The pace slows to a crawl while we do things like listen to Jekyll’s dull fiancée Emma–played by Teal Wicks–sing some boring love songs, occasionally in duet with Lucy the hooker (Deborah Cox) who is, by the by, being physically and sexually abused by Hyde. We’re even forced to sit through a song (“Dangerous Game”) wherein Lucy effectively sings about how she likes being abused and raped by Hyde, which is pretty awesome to hear in 2013, and I’m so glad Jeff Calhoun couldn’t find some way to cut it, or at least beg for new writing to reframe it.
Jekyll & Hyde is the kind of material that works best when it runs full speed ahead with its intrinsic insanity. When everything is over-acted, over-sung, and over-styled, belting you right in the face. Treated too seriously, the flaws in the material become evident, and unfortunately, Jeff Calhoun seems to have taken too much of the show far too seriously. Which sucks. Because Jekyll & Hyde could have been so much more fun.
Photo: Chris Bennion