The day after his seventh performance in Jekyll & Hyde, David Hasselhoff is perplexed by the previous night's audience. It was the first time since he took over the starring role in the Frank Wildhorn-Leslie Bricusse musical that the curtain call didn't culminate with a standing ovation, and he feels a nudge of disappointment.
"I've been kind of spoiled," he says, chatting about the show the next morning. "When you get a standing ovation right out of the box and then you get a dead night, it's kind of strange."
Still not a bad way to be welcomed to the theatre, but when you're in the Guinness Book of World Records as the most watched TV star in the world, making your Broadway debut can be a culture shock.
As the latest big-name celeb to tackle the role of obsessed scientist Henry Jekyll, who inadvertently releases his sinister side in the form of the murderous Hyde, Hasselhoff joins the cult musical following stints by heavy metal rocker Sebastian Bach and "Melrose Place" hunk Jack Wagner.
Although Hasselhoff has a higher profile than his predecessors, that distinction brings with it a certain amount of image baggage. As the star of the internationally popular lifeguard TV series, "Baywatch," he cavorted around the beaches of Southern California and Hawaii for that last decade, and before that co-starred with a smart aleck crime-solving car in "Knight Rider." The great hair, handsome face and sturdy body that helped Hasselhoff coast to TV stardom won't be enough to impress stubborn Broadway critics and audiences but, like Dr. Jekyll, Hasselhoff intends to prove that there is another side to him — one that can handle the demands of Broadway.
"I don't just want to fill seats. It'd be really easy for me to get out there, walk through this and smile a lot. But each night is a challenge because I'm kind of a"—he hesitates, sounding almost embarrassed about using the word, "perfectionist."
His years in Hollywood haven't robbed Hasselhoff of an earnest desire to come to Broadway, although it's taken 40 years for him to fulfill a dream that began when he was eight. At one point, the Baltimore native had considered studying at Juilliard, but ended up at the California Institute of the Arts. From there, he became a popular soap opera star, playing Dr. Snapper Foster on "The Young and the Restless" for several years. Afterward, Hasselhoff went to New York, hoping to become a Broadway baby, but television — this time "Knight Rider" — came calling again.
And once "Knight Rider" ended, Hasselhoff found himself with a triple platinum album, "Looking for Freedom," in Europe. Then came a little TV show called "Baywatch," which changed his life. Hasselhoff was rich, famous, successful, but something was still missing. "Creatively, I was still unfulfilled," he sighs.
After his commitment to "Baywatch" kept him from pursuing a chance to do The Scarlet Pimpernel and after an attempt to bring The Rocky Horror Show to Broadway failed, Hasselhoff turned in his swim trunks and left "Baywatch" earlier this year. As luck would have it, when a TV series and a film fell through, Broadway was waiting with not one but two offers: Annie Get Your Gun and Jekyll & Hyde.
Now the quandary: Which role to accept? "I heard `This Is the Moment,' and realized this is my moment," Hasselhoff says, referring to Jekyll & Hyde's show-stopping number. "I opted for the more challenging role, the tour de force. I figured if I could do this one, I could do any one."
In the six weeks he had to rehearse, Hasselhoff toiled to build his stamina, find the character and strengthen his voice. He has been studying with voice teacher Trish McCaffrey, an accomplished mezzo-soprano who has trained opera singers. "Trish said if I really trained I could have been an opera star," Hasselhoff says with a twinge of pride. "I'm looking at this time in my life like I'm a student. I just say, David, you're paying your dues, baby."
Hasselhoff worked with director Robin Phillips' assistant, Jack Wetherall, for most of the rehearsal process, which he describes as meticulous and sometimes trying. He found Hyde the easier character to nail and says he tried to create a more human depiction of the treacherous killer. "I didn't want to make him a beast, which I'd seen other people do," he asserts. "He's a person, and I think he's much more terrifying that way. There's an evil side in each of us."
His new job has instituted some necessary lifestyle changes. "You've got to figure out when to eat, when to sleep, the right kind of water to drink," he explains. "Everybody who's done Broadway says you've got to live like a monk, so I'm trying to channel all that energy so that I have the optimum amount of concentration and minimum amount of anxiety between 8 and 10:30 at night." That may become a greater challenge with his family, wife Pamela Bach and daughters Hayley and Amber, joining him in New York for the run of the show.
But Hasselhoff is eager to have his family by his side as he embarks on his five-month Broadway stint, and says he isn't worried about producers relying on his name to sell tickets. "I can get tons of publicity; I know how to market David Hasselhoff better than anybody," says the actor. "It's because I know how to get out there and I know what people like. If I sell out, great. If there's 10 people in the audience, I'll give the same performance. And if nobody comes, then I can go home early."
That last scenario probably won't happen, but Hasselhoff knows he'll need more than himself to succeed. "I want to make the cast proud," he says with the passion of Jekyll addressing the board of governors. "It takes a lot of guts and a lot of heart to go out on a Broadway stage. I have nothing —and please put this in the article — but total respect for the performers of the theatre. This cast is some of the nicest, sincerest, people I've met in a long time. Far superior to the people that I work with in Holly-weird."