Broadway’s Jekyll and Hyde Revival Revived Me
I always liked the novella The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and My Hyde. There have been any number of film versions of that novella, some that I liked, some that I did not. Even in my own life I have had my own encounters with the Jekyll and Hyde that live inside of me. When the musical began its’ genesis, sometime back in the 80’s, I was aware of it. I did not, though, have any first hand experience with the play until I attended a performance during the first days of the initial long run of the show on Broadway. When I did see the play, those years ago, I was quite entertained. I had never heard of Bob Cuccioli before or Christiane Noll, either; but I knew I would never forget their names again, after. Though I had heard of Linda Eder, I had never heard her sing — and seeing her in the play would make me a lifelong fan. Indeed, to this day, I listen to her cds often. Oh my goodness! When those three people sang and their voices filled that Broadway theater, it was thrilling. Thrilling!
Now. Did I think Jekyll and Hyde was the best musical ever? No. Not everything can be the best musical ever. Not to everyone. There are those who DO think that Jekyll and Hyde is the best musical ever. I have tended, in my life, toward a passion for The King and I, for Nine and for Sunday in the Park With George. That does not, though, mean that I cannot have a passion for other musicals, ranging from the profound (Ragtime) to the silly (Sugar Babies). There is room for every musical (at least I hope there is .. I won’t get into the semantics of the flops of Broadway; that is another story, entirely). My point is, I really enjoyed the hell out of Jekyll and Hyde and, in fact, bought three different Jekyll and Hyde cds and listened to them with (what one might term alarming) regularity.
In fifty years of devotion to the musical theater artform, I don’t think I have ever witnessed a more polarizing musical. There were rabid fans (they called themselves Jekkies) who would flock to the theater over and over to see the show and to wait to greet the cast at the stage door. There were rabid musical theater mavens who would, spur of the moment and without provocation, deliver impassioned orations on the travesty that was Jekyll and Hyde. In the years that would follow, those same fans would turn out to see The Scarlet Pimpernel, Civil War, Dracula, Wonderland and Bonnie and Clyde, all composed by the same composer, Frank Wildhorn. In the years that would follow, those same dissenters would continue to give those same impassioned orations, demanding that everyone around them drink the Kool Aid and join the cult of Wildhorn haters. I would spend two decades living in New York, watching Frank Wildhorn become a dividing force on The Great White Way; and, at this point in my life in NYC, this is what I have to say on the topic:
I wish people would give Frank Wildhorn the respect that he deserves. The man is hard working and devoted to his craft. He writes astonishingly beautiful melodies that give singers a chance to showcase their skills, not just as singers but as actors; the melodies he writes are charged with emotional content that one cannot embody unless one is a singer AND an actor. He creates work for Broadway performers and recording artists and, you know what else? He’s a doggone nice man. I spent a brief amount of time with he and his (at the time) wife, Linda Eder, doing some photos for a charity project I did called The Sweater Book. They gave, openly and freely, of their time and did so with kindness and friendship. That being said, I can move on from my own impassioned oration about the benefit the arts community has in Frank Wildhorn and talk about what is REALLY important to me.
Even though I, very much, enjoyed the original production of Jekyll and Hyde on Broadway, I was never as excited about it as I was when I read that Deborah Cox was coming to The Great White Way in a revival that would star American Idol alum, Constantine Maroulis. I love Deborah Cox very much. Like, A REALLY LOT, ok? She is one of the great voices. She can sing R&B, dance music, jazz and .. apparently, Broadway. My own husband heard her sing some gospel one night and has never forgotten it. She is a ravishing beauty and one of the nicest and most genuine people you could ever meet. I have worked with Deborah once and met her a couple of times. I love her; and I intended, fully, to be at her first performance on Broadway. The very FIRST performance, mind you.
But it didn’t work out that way. Scheduling conflicts, doncha know. But I DID make it to the evening performance on the third day. And, sigh, it was worth the wait. My diva was simply luminous. She looks gorgeous, her voice fills the Marquis theater (which one could easily compare with an airplane hangar).. people were screaming for her, even before her songs were finished. She acts beautifully, displaying ease with comic timing, pathos and a bangarang cockney accent. Fans of the lady and of the show were screaming for her; but not just the fans. During intermission, the elderly woman next to me confessed to me that she did not know who Deborah was and, since I seemed to be a fan, could I tell about her work? She had, in one act, become a fan. At the end of the play she turned to me and said “Your girl did GOOD!” Honestly? She did better than good. With her performance in Jekyll and Hyde, Deborah Cox claims her place among the divas of Broadway. This is her second Broadway show and her first as an Opening Night cast member. It will not be her last Broadway show. I cannot wait to go back and see her in it again: I was over the moon.
I was not, however, over the moon with just Deborah Cox. The entire production is exciting. It’s bigger, it’s darker, it’s edgier. The entire cast is engaging and entertaining, the Emma, an actress named Teal Wicks, was as pleasant a surprise to me as Christiane Noll was 16 years ago. For some reason, this time around, I enjoyed the play more. I was more connected to the story, more in touch with the music, more invested in the action. This revival of Jekyll and Hyde seems to be MY Jekyll and Hyde. Maybe I’ve changed in16 years and that’s what it is. Actually, I know I have – and, therein, lies the answer…
Looking back I can remember who I was back then and see the similarities and the differences between then and between now. To illustrate, for the benefit of the reader, I should spend a moment breaking it down…
In 1997 I had been living in New York only a handful of years. I had come here to make my way as a photographer. I wanted to photograph celebrities for my HIV/AIDS charity project; nobody knew me and I was having a difficult time getting celebrity participation, an agent, a publisher, even the endorsement of the charities that I intended for receipt of funds raised. I was in my 30’s, balding, overweight, rather prudish and prone to the music of female vocalists and Broadway composers. I was also a falling down drunk who, under the influence, turned into a monster. I saw Jekyll and Hyde, I heard the song A New Life and it became my personal anthem, for many years.
In 2013, I have been living in New York for 2 decades. I underwent a personal transformation a decade ago, shed 60 pounds, got in shape, stopped drinking and became a middle age club kid. I published my book, nobody bought it, people stopped hiring me to do their photos and I retired from photography. I reinvented myself as a health and fitness fanatic, found other ways of earning money and learned to roll with the punches. I married the man of my dreams eight times in a film called MARRIED AND COUNTING www.marriedandcounting.com and (though the film has been doing the festival circuit for a year and has been seen in Manhattan) in two weeks it opens for a limited engagement in New York City. The music I listen to is different now and the rock influences of this production are, greatly, in touch with my persona. Through ten years of sobriety, I came to see the duality of my personality and what the influence of certain substances do to the Jekyll and Hyde living within me. I am a different person now than I was in 1997 when I saw Jekyll and Hyde for the first time. That time, my anthem was A New Life. This time my anthem is This is The Moment.
And my divo is Constantine Maroulis.
I don’t tend to have divos. I’m a gay male. I follow the divas. There are men whose work I like, even love. George Michael. Russell Watson. Paul McCartney. Michael Buble. These are the singers. The actors is another list. I have never, though, really had a Broadway divo. My favourite boys of Broadway have been David Carroll, Michael Rupert, Brian d’Arcy James and (my personal favourite) Christopher Sieber. But I have never, never, never experienced what happend to me at Jekyll and Hyde last Sunday night.
My exposure to Constantine Maroulis has been limited. I think I saw him on American Idol once. Maybe twice. I did not watch the show from its’ original airdate. One night, a season or two later, I was flipping stations and saw Constantine Maroulis. Pat and I both thought he was rather neat, so we stayed with the show. An episode or two later, he was off the show, which was a bummer. I was aware of it when he landed on Broadway in Rock of Ages but I did not get to see the play. I did see him at a marriage equality rally and made a mental note to always respect him and never to allow anyone to malign him in my presence; but I still was not able to find time in my hectic schedule to the play Rock of Ages. I knew who Constantine Maroulis was and I respected him – that was it.
When Jekyll and Hyde began its’ American tour, they released a concept cd of the music from the show, as sung by the new cast. Some of these songs would land in the show and some would not; but they would be recorded and the fans would be happy with the result. My friend, Scott, sent me a copy from California and I immediately uploaded the cd into my Ipod; after that I listened to all of Deborah’s tracks. Exclusively. It’s Deborah Cox. I would have done the same if it were Barbra Streisand, Liza Minnelli, Helen Reddy or one of my other divas. I liked the way Constantine sounded on A Dangerous Game but I have to admit that I didn’t listen to any cuts that didn’t involve Deborah Cox. I realize now that this was part of a greater plan that the universe had for me. I wasn’t meant to hear Constantine Maroulis sing these songs until I was seated in the audience at The Marquis Theater.
I was pleasantly surprised at what a good actor this man was. He has a really good English accent! And he has two distinctly different characters happening onstage as Henry Jekyll and Edward Hyde. His stance as one character is diminished and small, while the other is tall and imposing. His gate at Jekyll is confined and restricted, while his stride as Hyde is all swagger and pelvis. Dr Jekyll mumbles to himself with nervous twitch and Mr Hyde snarls at everyone (onstage and in the theater) with a menacing growl. It is a complete transformation, an elegant performance, a fully realized artistic accomplishment. As the play moved forward I found nothing, nothing whatsoever, to dislike about the production. The songs were as good as I remembered, some of them even better, benefiting greatly by new arrangements. The production values, the entire cast, Miss Deborah and Mr Maroulis, all of them delivering what, as stated above, would turn out to be MY Jekyll and Hyde. By the time the curtain came down on Act One, I was near hyper-ventilation and gasping out, repeatedly “Oh my goodness!!!” Constantine Maroulis had me in the palm of his hand.
Here is the thing, though: I’ve been listening to Deborah Cox in my Ipod for weeks and weeks. It’s almost like A New Life has been on a permanent loop. Part of this is because, in the past, that song (as performed by Linda Eder) had meant so much to me. In the near past (read: last few weeks) that song has continued to mean so much to me, not only because it is Deborah who has been singing it but because (due to personal reasons having nothing to do with my happy marriage) I’ve been a little (or a lot) down and in need of a major change in my life. A New Life always brings to my face a smile and to my heart the promise of hope. For weeks I have been using Deborah’s recording of A New Life for smiles and for hope.
It is This is the Moment that fills my Ipod, my speakers and my ears now.
When Constantine Maroulis sang Henry Jekyll’s anthem, live, last Sunday night.. it was as though he were singing it just to me. I never heard a man sing like that before. And, dude, that song ain’t no easy shit to sing. The naysayers can Wildhorn bash all they want but those of us who love music and love singers will tell you: the man can write music. HARD music. It really gives singers a chance to showcase their gifts. Constantine Maroulis went places with his voice I didn’t know existed; and he took my heart and soul places that I DID know existed but needed reminding of. Listening to him sing this song reminded me: I have a MOVIE opening this month! I recently went back to work behind the camera, learning to transition from film to digital. I’ve been on the romantic ride of my life with my husband of 27 years. My personal relationships are shaping up as the true friends rise to the occasion and the fair weather friends float with the wind. I sat in the darkened theater, as this man, this artist, filled that airplane hangar with sounds that a human voice, by all reason, should not be able to make, reminding me that my decision to stop dreaming was, perhaps, premature. In a way, Constantine Maroulis and Henry Jekyll (with a little help from Frank Wildhorn) brought back to life parts of me that were either dead or dormant. Hyper-ventilating, laughing and weeping, I listened to This is the Moment and, by the time the ovation for the star of Jekyll and Hyde erupted, I had come to the realization that This IS my Moment.
I really enjoyed the original production of Jekyll and Hyde, 16 years ago. So much so that I might not have gone to see this revival. It was my diva, Deborah Cox, that got my butt in the seat; and, in doing so, she continued to give me gifts, as she has always done through her artistry and the way her work touches my heart. This time, though, it was a gift of lifesaving that she gave me. She brought me to the magic of Maroulis and, in doing so, reminded me to dream, to live for the Moment and to go out and get myself the New Life that I want.
Yes. This, DEFINITELY, is MY Jekyll and Hyde.
Please note: I did not take the photos seen in this story. The production photos were found online and the photo of Deborah Cox with Tom Taormina and I was shot backstage by a friend of Ms Cox.