John Barrymore, Fredric March and Spencer Tracy are hard acts to follow. But then they couldn't sing, and Robert Cuccioli can. And so his Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, unlike theirs, hits the high notes as well as the high drama in the new musical, Jekyll and Hyde, the latest adaptation of the famous Robert Louis Stevenson 1886 novella. With music by Frank Wildhorn and book and lyrics by Leslie Bricusse, the show is on a pre-Broadway tryout tour, this month in Denver.
Few musicals offer an actor as protean a challenge as the timeless role of the dashing young Victorian scientist who sets out to plumb man's darker natures in his lab and ends up as his own worst experiment. "Playing him allows you to get into your own feelings about good and evil," said Cuccioli while in Miami Beach, where the musical had a successful run last December.
The darkly handsome, 30-something Cuccioli, co-starring with Linda Eder and Christiane Noll, won the role over some fierce competition. But the producers and director Gregory Boyd had been impressed with his Javert in the N.Y. production of Les Miserables, a role which he played for over a year just prior to hitching his star to the fortunes of Jekyll and Hyde. In his career Cuccioli has also assayed such villains as The Phantom of the Opera in Maury Yeston and Arthur Kopit's version as well as Billy Bigelow in Carousel and Pontius Pilate in Jesus Christ Superstar. But he has also played heroes and romantic leads, including Lancelot to Richard Harris's Arthur in a touring production of Camelot and Gaston in Gigi.
Given his experience in playing both the noble and depraved, Cuccioli hesitates only slightly when asked which character he is drawn to, Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde. "I've been able to put myself in both of these guys to some extent, and they're both very close to my heart," he mused. "But while Jekyll is more complex, I find Hyde more liberating to play in the show. I do feel freer onstage within him. I can really push the limits with the character."
Indeed, the story's expression of unrepressed id, which so captivated Victorians, is eagerly exploited in the musical through a tormented hero torn between genteel manners and seething sexuality. "As in most Gothic thrillers, the emotions are completely on edge and heightened to the ninth degree, and that's really fun to play," says Cuccioli. "But the musical is not a period piece. It's relevant today as well. I think everyone can be touched by and see something of themselves in Jekyll/Hyde. It's scary to embrace your dark side, but illuminating." The pyrotechnics are not only emotional, however. Cuccioli is called upon to perform some dazzling physical feats as he romps, plunders and fights his way through the tony streets and fleshpots of Victorian London. The actor says he's lost ten pounds since he began playing the role.
"I'm learning to pace and protect myself," said Cuccioli. "Life is rough on the road. And I don't think I'd be doing this except that it's such a meaty role, and I know at the end of it all is Broadway. I couldn't pass up the opportunity to create a role like this there."