Kim Newman on… Jekyll & Hyde: The Musical

October 9, 2007 at 6:06 pm Leave a comment

 Jekyll & Hyde: The Musical from 2001 is an awkward hybrid — not only in its genre (horror musical) but its format (telerecorded Broadway performance). These things used to be more common on UK TV, where Brian Rix farces or operas were broadcast live or as live from theatres; now we have a paradoxical situation whereby the technology exists to record – easily and cheaply – even high school productions. But there’s little audience interest in sitting through the results, which always fail to capture the immediacy of theatre and seem hobbled and hectoring next to a proper TV show or film.

This lengthy (134 minutes) transcription of a Broadway performance has played on US cable, and is available on DVD. Interesting to R.L. Stevenson completists (I own up here) and the legion of
David Hasselhoff fans we’re told exist in Germany, it might prove a long haul for everyone else.

I’ve not seen the 1973 Kirk Douglas/Lionel Bart TV movie musical Jekyll & Hyde, but it hasn’t much of a rep; this lengthy effort from the writer-composer team of Leslie Bricusse and Frank Wildborn tries to mount the oft-told tale as a big-emoting, often-sungspieled musical melodrama, inclining more towards the coach party Lez Miz/Phantom end of the spectrum rather than the heights of Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd. It starts as if it were more closely based on the Reuben Mamoulian film than the novel, with Henry Jekyll (his motivation is a mad father who barely registers) rejected by a stuffy committee when he petitions funds for his experiments and going through a lavish engagement party with spirited Emma Carewe (Andrea Rivette), daughter of dignified Sir Danvers (Hammer’s old Robin Hood, Barrie Ingham).

Jekyll’s friend Utterson (who, in typical Broadway colour-blind casting, is black, George Merritt) takes him to the Red Rat music hall-cum-brothel in the East End, where they watch the cavortings of dancer Lucy (a corsetted Coleen Sexton), who sings a song about evil which inspires further experiments in laboratory and boudoir. At the end of the long first act, Jekyll drinks the potion and transforms. As Hyde, Hasselhoff undoes his pony-tail and grins through scraggy hair: no make-up effects are used, not even of the Richard Mansfield type, though Hasselhoff modifies his singing style (of course, the usual Hyde gimmick of gruesome false teeth isn’t possible in a show that depends on the songs).

The plot gets a bit wonky in the middle of the evening, with the expected Hyde-Lucy business mostly taking place offstage and a surprising body-count as Hyde gleefully murders the hypocrites (a whoremongering bishop, etc) who turned down Jekyll’s grant application (in a possible footnote to the theme of duality, some of the supporting cast play dual roles as pillars of society and criminal scum).

The finale comes at Jekyll’s wedding, with a transformation mid-ceremony and Utterson putting an end to Hyde with a swordcane-thrust. It has the sort of score which is stirring, bombastic and quite effective without being in the least memorable — the songs have instantly-forgettable, you’re-sure-they’ve-been-used-before titles like ‘Once Upon a Dream’, ‘This is the Moment’ and ‘Someone Like You’. The video production means a few swoops across the stage and shots of an applauding audience, and the inclusion of Hasselhoff’s ‘I’ve come a long way from the beach and the talking car’ curtain call speech. Otherwise, this is content to embalm the show for posterity.

A curiosity.



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