Okay, I didn't want to like the recent Broadway-bound production of Jekyll & Hyde as much as I did at the Pantages Theatre in Los Angeles (Feb. 12-March 3). But the fact is, I loved it.
The reason? For the same reason I've never seen a production of Funny Girl. That role, the role of Fanny Brice, on Broadway, made a star out of Barbra Streisand. Jeckyll & Hyde brought the world a vocalist equally as talented (yes, I said it), in the personification of the Lucy character: powerhouse Linda Eder. I will never forget sitting 17 years ago at the Orange County Center for the Performing Arts watching another Broadway bound production, the original, and writing in the Orange County Blade, "this is what audiences must have felt when they discovered Streisand in Funny Girl. By the end of the production the audience was putty in Eder's hands, knowing we had discovered a woman destined to become a lasting icon."
So when a play gives that kind of experience, it's hard to re-imagine it, to envision it with someone else in the role that made you fall in love with a lasting star. But reinvent the play is exactly what the new cast is doing, and this time, there's not just one star, but three. Constantine Maroulis (yes, former Idol contestant, continues to amaze in live theater. He soared in Rock of Ages and now commands the stage with electric vocal as Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde. Deborah Cox, R&B and dance superstar, takes on a role filled with big songs and powerhouse vocal requirements and not only meets the challenge but belts to the heaven and then pulls back with stellar control showing a voice that could not be adequately captured on any of her albums; it has to be seen and experienced live. After the original production so many years ago, my late husband Andrew Howard rushed out and got me every Eder recording available. I don't have to for Cox, I already have all of her albums, including her songs in Tim Rice and Elton John's Aida . The problem is none of them compare to her performance in this production. She unveils a brand new diva and will surely take Broadway by storm.
And then there's Teal Wicks. You see, the bad girl in the play, Lucy, gets all the attention. We love the bad girls, but it's Wicks' Emma that is Dr. Jekyll's anchor and her songs are equally as big. When she and Cox duet on In His Eyes the show stops. But make no mistake, this time, this production, belongs to the male lead, Maroulis. Could he belt out "This is the Moment", or transform to Hyde and then take on the rigors of "Alive"? The answer is an overwhelming yes. Maroulis has the goods for Broadway, as his Tony nomination for Rock of Ages will attest. Look for another nomination here.
The play is set around the novella The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson. It explores the duality in all, the good, the evil, and the notion that somehow they can be separated. But as Jekyll learns, the evil in men (and women) must manifest somewhere and in him it takes on the persona of Edward Hyde, killer, abuser, downright nasty guy. It is the love child of Frank Wildhorn (music), Leslie Bricusse (lyrics and book) with additional lyrics by Steve Cuden. It debuted in 1990, workshopped, toured, and then opened on Broadway at the Plymouth theater in 1997 where it stayed until 2001, would be nominated for Tonys and Drama Desk Awards and launched the career of Linda Eder (then wife, now ex-wife of Wildhorn) in to high gear. It has toured the world with various productions from London to South Korea and now has been revived and is headed to Broadway again where it will land April 18th at the Marquis Theatre.
Wildhorn was in the sound booth opening night at the Pantages, delighted with this new production. And it is new, a few new songs, new staging, new multimedia.
"Doesn't it feel great to see your work live on, live anew, proving it had the legs all along?" I asked him as he glowed.
"Yes, yes it does," he laughed.
Maroulis is amped. I spoke to him a few days before he hit Los Angeles and he couldn't wait. As for the challenges of the role?
"Well even though it's a new production, you're right, there's big numbers, big songs," he started. "But this is what an actor and singer hopes for, to be challenged, to stretch what you can do, and expand as you go. Working with this cast inspires me every day to be great, they're all so talented."
The talk ultimately turns to Idol and he has to laugh.
"You know, that was a character, too," he said. "I was a trained actor in musical theater long before the show. But they wanted this character, this bad boy sort of image, so I created it for them. It was great fun and quite an experience. But in retrospect, it was just another role, another part to play as part of building a career."
And building a solid career as a Broadway staple is what Maroulis is doing.
I was also lucky enough to catch up with my now friend Linda Eder. She is performing in Orange County on Feb. 14 (Grove), Feb. 16 in San Francisco (Yoshi's) and Feb. 23 in Palm Dessert. That review and interview will follow here at The Huffington Post. But what about the new tour? Would she do it again?
"First of all, it's a new production, they're taking some chances, and I think that's great. And yes, I put over a decade in to that show, such sweat and blood, so of course I feel attached to the role. But that's the smaller part of our nature, Deborah is an incredible vocalist and this is a new version, it feels good to know we were right, that this play is great, it works, and can that these are great roles to showcase great performers," she told me from her Connecticut home. Would she go back to a play again? Well, that and more will be in her feature here at the Post.
Other standouts in the play include David Benoit as the lecherous Bishop and pimp Spider. His vocals rumbled the seats and his larger-than-life personality dominated his scenes.
Cox arrived at the after-party at Hollywood hotspot Beso Hollywood looking like a real life Jessica Rabbit, as incredible artist and performer friend James Mulligan (@MulliganJimmy) stated as he hugged her hello. I was with my lifelong friend Thea Austin (Snap! Rhythm Is A Dancer and many more #1 dance hits) and Cox and Austin quickly fell in to girl talk as the two had met previously. Cox was electrified, as she should be, having slayed the audience, stepping in to a big role and surpassing expectations. Many, like me, knew she'd be good, but not THAT good.
Maroulis, always the gent, entered and began the hour long process of getting from the door to a booth, stopping to pose with everyone that wanted a photo. Wildhorn watched from the corner, a proud father, again, seeing his characters and the actors that play them revel in the after glow of a great performance. Bricusse was there as well, over two decades after the inception watching his book and lyrics live on. Lance Bass, Joey Fatone, Lainie Kazan, Ace Young, lots of Glee cast members...let's just say to list all the celebs at Beso would take too many words. Everyone in town wanted to see this production.
And everyone in this town or any other that loves true musical theater should see this production. I love it as much now as did in the 1990s. As my radio mentor, former KFI Program Director and now powerhouse radio consultant David G. Hall told me years ago, "No other host is better or worse than you and you are no better or worse than any other host. You're just different." Is Cox Eder, is Maroulis Cucciolli (Jekyll on Broadway and tour)? No, they don't have to be. They're different, and they're wonderful, each in their own.
There's duality in all of us, two natures. And now, there's a new life, a new generation of musical theater goers that must discover the madness, the wonder, the spectacle that is Jekyll & Hyde with a cast ever bit as strong as the material needs.
To hear Karel's show get his iOS and Android App "Karel" or go to his website The Karel Show for live audio and affiliates. Watch the daily Ustream show, subscribe to the podcast, get his books and see more at the website. To hear the audio interview with Maroulis see below.