When “Jekyll and Hyde” opened on Broadway in 1997 after more than seven years of development, it was largely panned by critics, who took issue with its songs, its structure and its performers.
But that did nothing to keep the crowds away. Over the course of more than three years, the show amassed an enormous contingent of die-hard fans known as “Jekkies,” some of whom saw the show dozens of times. The deep and abiding passion those fans had for the musical helped to sustain it through 1,543 performances in New York City’s Plymouth Theatre. And though the show didn’t make any money, it did manage to create one of the more unlikely cultural phenomena to emerge from Broadway in the ’90s.
Today, as a theatergoing species that wields any sort of reputation-making clout, the Jekkies of old seem to have all but vanished from the theatrical landscape. But a Broadway-bound touring production of “Jekyll and Hyde” that opens a six-day run in Shea’s Performing Arts Center on Tuesday is aiming to reawaken the ineffable Jekkie spirit that gave its first outing such surprising cultural traction.
The show’s producers, Nederlander Presentations, are betting that name recognition and built-in fan bases of the show’s two leads will reignite the audience passion. The show’s stars are “American Idol” and “Rock of Ages” star Constantine Maroulis, who will take on the title roles, and Toronto-born R&B singer Deborah Cox, who plays his love interest, Lucy.
These casting choices will take the show in a strikingly different direction, to say the least, from the performances of beloved original cast members Robert Cuccioli and Linda Eder.
Maroulis, the affable self-styled rocker whose appearance on the fourth season of “American Idol” (he finished sixth) gained him a strong and committed following, spoke to The News from Houston during the tour’s second week. Though it’s still early on, he said, Nederlander’s relatively unorthodox approach of mounting a 25-city pre-Broadway tour bodes well for the revival’s prospects in New York City.
“We’re pretty lucky that we get this time to work out the show on the road a bit. It’s not always the case. It’s a new business model and it’s been working out really well for us,” Maroulis said, between bites of his lunch. “I think everyone’s out there trying to figure out how to make their show ‘Wicked’ and ‘Book of Mormon,’ which are just printing cash.”
The revival version of the show, Maroulis said, is stripped down in some ways from its original Broadway version. He said the fresh approach – which includes new arrangements and orchestrations, along with a retooled book and a pair of new songs – was helped by the fact that he, his co-star and director Jeff Calhoun had never seen the original production. (That fact has become a talking point in many interviews.)
“It starts right there, when you have your two principals and your director taking a completely organic and fresh approach to the work,” he said, adding that composer Frank Wildhorn and lyricist Leslie Bricusse “really took apart the book, put it back together again, really tried to emphasize the storytelling and a more minimalist approach to things.”
Maroulis suggested that the negative critical reaction to the Broadway version of the show may have played a role in the creative team’s decision to strip the story down to its essential elements.
“We sort of had their blessing to take things out that we might have thought were just not necessary to the actual storytelling,” he said. “They were some things that we just felt that just weren’t ideal for the storytelling that we’re doing every night up there and we just tried to bring more clarity to the story.”
For Cox, whose 1998 song “Nobody’s Supposed to Be Here” topped the R&B charts before her career took a turn for Broadway in 2004, the opportunity to reinvent a popular Broadway character was irresistible. The new orchestrations were tailor-made to her and her co-star’s voices, she said. Many of the show’s major hits – like “This Is the Moment,” sung by Jekyll, and “Sympathy, Tenderness” and “Someone Like You,” sung by Lucy – will take on a different tenor in the new production than longtime fans might be familiar with.
“Constantine’s music is just the perfect fit. It’s got sort of a rockier edge, which to me really suits the character.
“But then his version of his Henry Jekyll beautiful tenor side that you hear in the show is something that I think is going to surprise a lot of people,” she said. “For me, there’s the soulful edge that people are used to. I [do] bring that, but it’s not all-encompassing.”
Cox, the other cast members and the show’s creative team have taken to calling the show a “revisal” rather than a revival because of the marked differences between it and the original production. Director Calhoun, who also helmed the current Broadway show “Newsies” and the version of “White Christmas” that returns to Shea’s in December, told the Houston Chronicle recently that the new “Jekyll and Hyde” combines all the best parts of the show’s many previous incarnations.
The show, which began its life as a 1990 concept album, is the most successful of at least half a dozen musical adaptations of Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic tale about the battle between good and evil that have been attempted in recent decades. It takes audiences into the tortured mind and laboratory of the scientist Henry Jekyll and into the streets of 19th century London, through which his terrifying and insatiably violent alter ego Edward Hyde roams seeking new victims to fuel his growing rage. In the process, his fiance Emma (played in this production by Teal Wicks) and the good-natured prostitute Lucy (Cox) get caught up in the epic battle between the scientist and his evil creation.
The show, Maroulis said, takes advantage of the fact that Stevenson’s story is so deeply and inextricably embedded in Americans’ cultural memory.
“You can’t watch ESPN for more than 40 minutes without hearing someone say, ‘He’s like a Jekyll and Hyde out there!’ It’s just something that’s part of our everyday dialogue and the classic tale by Stevenson, but we’ve just tried to make it a bit more clear for everybody,” he said. “It’s got this steam-punk, kind of cool edge to it. It’s sexy and dark. We’ve brought all of that out.”
And though the tour is still in its first month and it will be months before its backers will see if they can finally squeeze some money out of the piece, both leads said the process has already reaped personal rewards.
“We’re all still developing our characters,” Cox said. “It’s been a really great time to explore because we’re around all these great audiences, some [of whom] have seen it and some are new supporters of the show who are getting to know our version of the show. It’s been a great ride so far.”
“Jekyll and Hyde”: opens at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday in Shea’s Performing Arts Center, 646 Main St., and runs through Nov. 4. Tickets are $32.50 to $67.50, available through Ticketmaster.com or by calling 800-745-3000. More information is at www.sheas.org or 847-1410.