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‘Jekyll & Hyde’ too funny to be taken seriously

Constantine Maroulis stars as Edward Hyde (pictured Henry Jekyll) Deborah Cox portrays Lucy 'Jekyll   Hyde — The Musical.'

Constantine Maroulis stars as Edward Hyde (pictured, and Henry Jekyll) and Deborah Cox portrays Lucy in "Jekyll & Hyde — The Musical." | © CHRIS BENNION PHOTO

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When: Through March 24

Where: Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph

Tickets: $33-$95

Info: (800) 775-2000;

Run time: 2 hours and 40 minutes, with one intermission

Updated: March 16, 2013 11:08AM

Walking to the parking garage after seeing “Jekyll & Hyde — the Musical” now at the Cadillac Palace Theatre in a pre-Broadway stop of its “all new” edition, I tailed a thirtysomething couple who were holding programs from the show and laughing hysterically.

When we all got into the same elevator I couldn’t help but ask: “Are you laughing at the show?” And at that point we became a chorus of three.

Fans of Victorian high camp melodrama and the penny dreadful style might have great fun with this musical which is something of a wannabe “Sweeney Todd” (dream baby, dream) mixed with equal parts “Oliver!,” “Willy Wonka,” “Young Frankenstein,” Victoria’s Secret runway spectacle, high-tech video game, and, to top it all off, a heavy does of bondage and ersatz Christian iconography. (The final “pieta” imagery is truly over the top.)

There also is a great deal of declamatory singing in this score — a disjointed blend of pop and pseudo-opera by Frank Wildorn (music) and Leslie Bricusse (book and lyrics based on the classic Robert Louis Stevenson novella). And Jeff Calhoun’s direction, while inventive at moments, too often verges on the ridiculous. Do we really have to see a dagger going in one side of a body and coming out the other?

The sad thing about all this is that the core story remains fascinating and provocative. The performances are often skilled and stylish. And Tobin Ost’s sets (mirrored panels, unstable walls) have a Victorian-chic beauty, as do his costumes. The show is sometimes enhanced by Daniel Brodie’s projections, but ultimately it is undermined by all the anachronistic technology. In short, this show has every bit as much of a split personality as the story itself.

A quick recap: Henry Jekyll (Constantine Maroulis, the “American Idol” star, surprisingly effective in a marathon role of quicksilver transformations and hairdos) is a gentle, forward-thinking doctor obsessed with finding a cure for mental illness that can turn the good mind to evil. He appeals to the hypocritical powers that be (corrupt cleric, wealthy socialite, others) to allow him to experiment on a patient in the state asylum, but permission is denied. So he becomes the subject of his own experiment, intubating himself with chemicals that bring out his most perverse and murderous nature in the persona of Edward Hyde.

Meanwhile, Henry’s adoring fiancee, Emma Carew (the lovely Teal Wicks), and his loyal lawyer friend, John (deft work by Laird Mackintosh) begin to sense the strange changes in him. And the much-abused, similarly “dual-natured” prostitute, Lucy Harris (Deborah Cox, the R&B superstar with a big voice and the best legs in the business, nails “A New Life”), gets the worst of it, with bondage only part of the picture. (“In His Eyes,” the duet by the two women, is one of the best moments in the show, though Hyde’s wild revel of newfound power, “Alive!” has a certain crazy heat.)

Richard White is an elegant patrician dad to Emma, and David Benoit is all Dickensian repulsion as both bishop and pimp.

The actors’ bows were as laughter-filled as the theatergoers I encountered. Maybe this show is truly meant to be a musicalcomedy.

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