Sunday, February 17, 2013

Another Theater Review

This afternoon, Mrs. Blog and I caught a performance of the "touring on it's way to Broadway" reboot of the 1990s musical misfire "Jekyll & Hyde" at The Pantages Theater in Hollywood.

This is, The Blog is lead to understand, a back to the drawing board, from the ground up reinvention of a play that, when it first ran on Broadway, was critically reviled and was the choice of theater goers only when "Phantom" and "Lion King" were sold out.

But, The PC is a geek for the horror classics and has always been particularly fascinated by the theme of duality in some of those classics. And of course, duality is the heart, head, spine and liver of the story of Dr. Henry Jekyll and his nemesis Mr. Edward Hyde.

So, I decided to give the new production a chance.

And I am as torn down the middle as the show's title character[s].

So much good to say about it.

And yet...

So, let's try to break it down.

First, let me get this out of the way...

                                                                         The Venue.

I love The Pantages Theater. A magnificent building. One of the few truly historical pieces of architecture left in a town that discards it's history without remorse. Originally built in 1930 as a movie theater, it was restored and reopened as a "legitimate" theater in 1977.

There is just one thing.

The acoustics suck.

The amplified orchestra and voices seem to bounce all over the space, competing with each other to be heard. (The orchestra usually wins.) Dialogue is better. But, not by much.

Because I have encountered this issue at every show I have ever seen there, I have to blame the building. The production itself is off the hook for this problem. But, I had to mention it.

So, let's move on.

The cast is pretty close to flawless. Their performances, especially the singing, powerful. (Even if I couldn't understand half the lyrics.)

 Constantine Maroulis, at first blush, seems rather miscast as Jekyll and Hyde. His boyish looks and "aw shucks" demeanor that served him well in "Rock of Ages" (and on "American Idol") would seem to make him too young and wide eyed to play the obsessed Jekyll and too cute to pull off the brutish Hyde.


In an earlier post, The PC confessed to a bit of a "man crush" on Maroulis. Tonight, I reiterate, The Blog is confident enough in his heterosexual masculinity to describe C.M. as "dreamy."

*End Digression*

But, pull off both roles, he does.

Even if his Jekyll is a bit too nerdy...

...and Hyde a bit too, well, sexy...

...this is a Broadway musical, so I guess that the genre determines, to some extent, the style.

His transformations are actually painful to watch. He (and, presumably, the director) have choreographed the act of removing glasses and shaking out a ponytail band into excruciating torture. The gruesome method that is used to administer the doctor's concoction adds to the discomfort. (But, more on that when we get to the stagecraft.)

The physical differences between the two characters is kind of "Clark Kent/Superman" but it works on stage.

Maroulis is a rocker at heart. And, as such, as both characters, he nails every note to the theater's back wall.

My only quibble with his performance...

 The Blog asks...

"Constantine. What were those accents.?"

Jekyll's accent seemed to be two parts  British, one part Swedish. And Hyde sounded a bit like a Russian who learned English in Scotland.

But, at least I understood most of his dialogue. Maybe by the time they get to Broadway, the accent thing will be ironed out.

The Blog admits that, before today, he had never heard of Deborah Cox.

Too old? Too straight? Too white? Or just too disconnected from most music recorded after 1980? I don't know the answer to that.

But, it turns out, she is a pretty big deal.

And well she should be.

As Lucy, the hooker with a heart of gold, she shines.

A plot problem with the story... there isn't much about her character that should make us care much about her. But, Ms. Cox fills that plot hole with her crystal voice, sympathetic performance and sheer beauty.

The rest of the supporting cast, too many to list, all delivered.

On to The Music.

Every song comes off as a powerful anthem. But, with the exception of Jekyll's show stopper "This is the Moment," I had forgotten them all by the time I left the theater.

And, about that show stopper. It was ill timed. A show stopper, usually, is the song that comes just before the lights come up for intermission. Thus, stopping the show.

Instead, "this moment" comes about half way into the first act. It brings down the house, but leaves the rest of the first act numbers anticlimactic.

The Blog's advice to the producers and director...

Find a way to bring the song back as a reprise. Write a couple of new verses. Perhaps as a...(There must be a word for a song sung by three people, like a duet is for two, but I don't know it. The best I can come up with is "three way," and that is probably inappropriate.) ...between Jekyll, Lucy and Jekyll's fiancé, Emma, right before intermission.

I am sure that you are reading this and will take it into consideration. Message me for the address to send the royalty checks.

Just one thing about that song. Just another quibble. It's really just me. But, the phrase, "This is the moment..." bears a striking resemblance, musically and lyrically, to the late '70s prom favorite, "This Magic Moment." And, that mash-up is going to stick in my head until some other ear-worm comes along.

Finally, The Stagecraft.

By that, I mean, sets and special effects.

A while back, The Blog suggested that the sets for "The Addams Family" should be credited as a cast member.

But, Damn!

The brilliantly designed sets (by the designer that gave you the sets for Broadway's "Newsies") are practically alive. Almost constantly moving. Twisting and turning and evoking a disturbing disorientation, reminiscent of early 1900's German, avant-garde silent films like "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari."

And about that first transformation scene, mentioned earlier...

No mere swallowing of a dram or, as more modern versions of the story have portrayed it, a shooting up of the cursed concoction.

In this version, (hitting a little bit too close to home,) Dr. Jekyll hooks himself up to a hybrid dialysis machine, chemo therapy infusion device, as designed by Dr. Frankenstein.

The show begins and ends with the very disturbing sight of an asylum inmate, straight-jacketed to a wall, evoking a crucifixion.

And in the climactic confrontation between Jekyll and Hyde, (yes, both of them) all Hell, literally, breaks loose. The PC has not been prone to nightmares since he was a blogling, but his sleep may be haunted by this scene in the next few nights.

To sum up...

Amazing talent.

Stunning stagecraft.

Decent, if not memorable, music.








Here is what I think...

First of all...


The story is a tragedy of Shakespearian proportions. Not, usually, the purview of Broadway musicals.

And, did you notice how many times I used words like "disturbing," "disorienting," "nightmare," and "creepy?' (Did I use "creepy?" Maybe not. But, yeah.)

For all of the impressive talent that was on display in this show...

Do audiences really want to leave the theater feeling like they have just woken (awakened?) from a bad dream?

The Blog doubts it.

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