TAMPA — Jekyll & Hyde is like a theme park horror show for Halloween.
A scientist is so obsessed with humans' dual capacity for good and evil — "In each of us there are two natures" — that he concocts a serum that turns himself into a serial killer stalking the foggy streets of Victorian London, picking out his victims with diabolical relish. A depraved bishop is stabbed with his own crucifix to bring down the first act curtain.
There is an audience for this hokum, which drew a crowd of 1,883 to Tuesday night's opening at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts. The original production ran from 1997 through 2001 on Broadway, Frank Wildhorn's score has been recorded five times, and the show is due to return to New York next spring, presumably on the strength of its casting of American Idol fave Constantine Maroulis as the schizophrenic Jekyll/Hyde and R&B diva Deborah Cox as the femme fatale Lucy.
In some ways, Jekyll & Hyde is a concert that just barely tolerates the inconvenience of the play (freely adapted from the Robert Louis Stevenson novella by Leslie Bricusse) that justifies its existence in the theater. Maroulis, a student from the Robert Plant school of rock singing, shrieks out his songs in a high-pitched, glassy whine, his long hair tied up in a ponytail for workaholic Jekyll, loose and tangled for demonic Hyde, though he doesn't make much difference between the two sides of the role vocally. This Is the Moment is the big hit, belted out as Maroulis prepares to be hooked up to a contraption that looks like an electric chair and produces the bubbly green potion that Jekyll takes through a bunch of IV tubes.
As an illiterate prostitute, Cox is a slinky chanteuse in black and red negligee, and she brings expressive emotion to the power ballads Someone Like You and A New Life. Amid the rock and pop stylings of Maroulis and Cox, there are some legitimate theater voices, such as the excellent Teal Wicks as Jekyll's long-suffering bride-to-be, Emma Carew. Local note: Haley Swindal, granddaughter of the late George Steinbrenner, is a member of the company and dance captain.
Like the last Wildhorn musical seen in Tampa, Wonderland, this production relies on flashy lighting design (by Jeff Croiter) and many projections (by Daniel Brodie) on the panels of Tobin Ost's set. Sometimes the effects are sublime, as in the Lucy and Emma duet In His Eyes, with its lavender-gray color scheme, and sometimes they are ludicrous, as in the Jekyll-Hyde Confrontation, with its lurid, blood-red video.
Wildhorn musicals tend to go through never-ending rewrites, and Jekyll & Hyde is no exception. The book by Bricusse (also responsible for the lyrics, along with Steve Cuden) has been chopped and channeled to shorten the show, and details have been tweaked to accommodate the new staging by Jeff Calhoun. For example, the name of Lucy's club has been changed from the Red Rat to the Spider's Web, tied to the bondage theme that comes to the fore in Dangerous Game, Hyde's kinky seduction of Lucy.
The sung dialogue of the original has mostly been ditched, but at least one number reflecting the show's inspiration from British musicals of the '80s remains, Facade, a shameless ripoff of Masquerade from The Phantom of the Opera. In the pit, Steven Landau conducts a small orchestra, heavy on the electronic keyboards.
John Fleming can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8716.