Filichia Features: Jekyll & Hyde - A New Life

Filichia Features: Jekyll & Hyde - A New Life

By Peter Filichia on October 12, 2018

To quote Carousel , "I've never seen it yet to fail."

For my 11th go-round - this time at the North Shore Music Theatre in Beverly, Massachusetts -- I saw theatergoers at Jekyll & Hyde run the risk of making their hands bleed from intense applause. Their throats may have also gone sore from their screams of approval.

"The only thing constant is change," the musical states. J&H endured many changes on its lengthy road to Broadway. What was constant, however, was audience adoration.

My history with J&H started on Sept. 4, 1992, when Frank Wildhorn, its composer, invited me to a workshop. He, Steve Cuden and Leslie Bricusse adapted Robert Louis Stevenson's 19th century classic about scientist Henry Jekyll's quest to obliterate evil from the world, only to create a drug that instead created alter ego and serial killer Mr. Hyde.

Terrence Mann played the title roles. The cheers that he and the show got were plentiful. Still, this was a house full of friends and people connected with the production. One had to take those "Whoos!" with a shaker-full of salt.

Next came the Houston opening on Jan. 27, 1995 - or, more accurately, re-opening. In 1990, J&H had played that city's Alley Theatre where it had to be extended twice. Although the premiere of the new version elicited frenetic response, one had to wonder if the crowd were repeaters welcoming back an old friend.

However, Robert Cuccioli hadn't played the roles there. If the 1995 audience missed the original actor, you'd never have known it from the ear-shattering response at Cuccioli's "This Is the Moment" or his curtain call.

In New Haven on Oct. 15, 1995, another audience went wild. Had some known the score with its bolt-of-lighting songs "A New Life" and "Someone Like You" from Linda Eder's recordings on the 1990 or 1994 discs? Or had they heard them sung on many Miss America contests?

Nevertheless, to say that most theatergoers hadn't previously heard the work is a safe assumption. They just loved the show.

By the Baltimore opening in April, 1996, a cult now named the "Jekkies" was there on its latest stop in following J&H from city to city. The Mechanic Theatre would be demolished in 2014, but considering the audience reaction, if J&H had played a few more weeks there, the city could have saved some money for the roof would have collapsed on its own.

On my many visits to the Broadway production and its 2013 revival, the applause and cheers were always titanic - as they were once again in Beverly. Here Cuccioli sharply directed Constantine Maroulis as well as Tess Primack as his fiancée Emma and Diana DeGarmo as Lucy, the prostitute who comes to love him. The audience adored them.

Here's betting that when you do J&H , you'll get screaming cheers at the final curtain, too. Sad to say, the show isn't dated, for the world's evil hasn't remotely been eradicated.

Cuccioli had a round stage placed a half-foot above the spokes-in-the-wheel ramps where performers made exits and entrances. Even if you have a standard proscenium, consider replicating what he did for a scene at a ball. Cuccioli sent waltzing couples into the aisles so that Jekyll and Emma could have the stage to themselves, suggesting that they were in their own little world.

Your red gels will be put to good use first at Lucy's red-light district pub inelegantly known as The Red Rat. In the famous "Confrontation," where Jekyll swerves his head so that his hair looks neat for the scientist and wildly unkempt for the madman, bathe the stage in red every time Hyde takes over.

Cuccioli staged a seemingly small moment that encapsulated the entire show in one image. In a tableau, a top-hatted gentleman had his walking stick raised to fend off a guttersnipe. His well-dressed female companion crouched in fear.

So did the street kid. The question is ... did the urchin threaten to rob and harm them, which would understandably cause the toff to defend himself ... or was the lad simply walking near them and the highborn man assumed that he and his beloved were in danger and thus raised his stick in a preemptive strike?

Who's in the right here? Who isn't? We'll never know -- just as in real life we'll can't definitively say who's good and who's evil. What we can be sure of, thanks to more than two decades of performances, is that Jekyll & Hyde will thrill your audiences.


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