Monday, September 24, 2012

New CD: Jekyll & Hyde

I've been a fan of Frank Wildhorn and Leslie Briccuse's Jekyll & Hyde for a very, very long time. I discovered it when a concept "highlights" CD was released in 1990, with Colm Wilkinson as Jekyll and an unknown Linda Eder as Lucy, the doomed prostitute. It was a magical recording. Wilkinson was famous for recently playing Jean Valjean in Les Miserables, and Eder had been a contestant on "Star Search." But it was the music that was remarkable, the otherworldly melodies, the emotions as high-pitched as the notes they floated on. Then, in 1994, there was another concept CD, this time with two discs. Once again Eder was Lucy, but now there was another Jekyll, Anthony Warlow. This set featured even more music, a more fully realized telling of the tale. It been retooled a bit, and it worked even better than the original highlights CD. Anyone who had doubts about a musical of this story were assured. It was one powerful recording. Then came Broadway in 1997, and things changed. Eder played her role on the stage, and Robert Cuccioli's take on Jekyll was rather lightweight. He sang it well enough, but the acting was a bit thin. And the direction was horrible. The unfortunate problem was that the second recording had been so lush, the Broadway production seemed like an imitation, and not a good one. It ran for a good while, but no one I know thought it delivered on the musical's promise. Since then, there have been other productions and other recordings. David Hasselhoff played Jekyll in Europe. There was a touring company, if memory serves. And now, in preparation for a new Broadway production starring "American Idol" veteran Constanine Maroulis and Deborah Cox, yet another concept CD. And the result? Unfortunately, the whole thing is getting worse. Exponentially. Every time the musical gets a new life, it gets further and further away from what makes it so great. The new recording offers yet another reorganization of the songs, but it isn't a better version. And this time around, the voices themselves are problematic. Maroulis isn't up to the task of Jekyll. He might look right, but really he doesn't. The thing is, casting Jekyll and Hyde is like casting Bruce Wayne and Batman. You have to cast the guy, not the alter-ego. What I mean is, anyone can be Hyde with the right makeup and the right menace, but it takes more than a voice to play Jekyll. It takes acting. And this time around, Lucy is all but destroyed. Cox just about kills the part, but not in a good way. Instead of performing the songs in character, especially her signature anthem, "Someone Like You," she sings it as though she's on "American Idol," with totally unnecessary flourishes that make it sound like a contemporary ballad, not the character study that it is. And I won't even go into the whole heavy-metal orchestration that's present; doing so would be a waste of pixels, to be honest. I will say this: composer Frank Wildhorn should have left well enough alone. Jekyll & Hyde doesn't need more concept albums. It's had two or three two many at this point. What it needs is someone who understands the brilliance of the two-CD set from 1994. It needs someone who gets it -- not what it could be, but what what it already was.

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