The Doctor (Jekyll) Is In

The Doctor (Jekyll) Is In
SHE: "Oh, for a moment, I thought you were somebody else."
HE(s): "For a moment, I almost was. . . "

You couldn't find a faster, flipper, funnier plot synopsis for the show now gracing the Plymouth than this little exchange in the middle of Act II.

Together again, Jekyll & Hyde explores the age-old matter of man's duality‹that unending war between good and evil that rages in all of us. This somewhat cerebral conflict came to Robert Louis Stevenson in the form of a nightmare, which he committed to paper in 1886, personifying and physicalizing the problem, opening the whole idea up to human identification: On the side of the angels is altruistic, scientific Dr. Henry Jekyll who, taking some of his own untested medicine, turns into the hedonistic, homicidal Mr. Edward Hyde.

Voila! You have a highly visual horror story, which the movies have sliced and diced every way imaginable: There's the gender-bender (Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde), the politically correct gender-bender (Dr. Jekyll and Ms. Hyde), the race swap (Dr. Black, Mr. Hyde), the Christopher Lee version (I, Monster), the offsprings (Son of Dr. Jekyll, Daughter of Dr. Jekyll). Spencer Tracy once did the part, and, Tracy being Tracy, you rooted for Hyde. When a nerdy Jerry Lewis used the plot, he turned into a smoothie Dean Martin. Two Oscars have been won with it: Fredric March won one for acting in the 1932 version, and the remake of The Nutty Professor just got one for make-up (i.e., Eddie Murphy's overweight "before pictures"). The role has been filmed so many times that one impersonator is now himself a Broadway role: [John] Barrymore, residing at the Music Box directly across the street from the Plymouth.

Why there's never been a Broadway musical of all this is anyone's guess. Well, as Robert Cuccioli says in the show's surging signature song‹taking syringe in hand to go where no Victorian doc has ever gone before‹"This Is the Moment."

That belated "Broadway tune" may reach your ears with a certain familiarity. So, too, may Linda Eder's soaring second-act number, "A New Life." If so, score two for the pop-music savvy of composer Frank Wildhorn. Save for the ditties he did for his lyricist, Leslie Bricusse, to augment the score of Victor/Victoria, this is Wildhorn's Broadway debut‹17 years in the coming‹and to get here he had to dash off some hits for the masses like Kenny Rogers's "Don't Look at My Eyes" and Whitney Houston's "Where Do Broken Hearts Go?"

"Thank God the publishing world came calling!" he says. "The next thing I knew I was entrenched in that world, but I always looked at it as a place where I could buy myself the financial freedom to do theatre. I've always loved theatre. To this day, my pop-field friends still say, 'What are you doing?' "

Two ways for a show to reach Broadway with "instant hits" is to tour it extensively and to slip songs into a singer's repertory or album. Cuccioli joined the show in December 1994 for a national tour, picking up the Joseph Jefferson Award in Chicago along the way. The Broadway-bowing Eder has several albums under her belt‹two on J&H, two more on Wildhorn's next Broadway shows: The Scarlet Pimpernel (due November) and The Civil War: An American Musical.

She was a night club performer when she met Wildhorn in 1987, and they've been an item ever since. "It's really worked to my advantage because he writes with my voice in his head," she says. "I'm not sure where I end and the character begins. She's the only person‹aside from his lawyer and friend, Utterson‹who interacts with Jekyll and Hyde. She's in love with the idea of Jekyll who treats her like a lady, but she's got this sex-slave thing going with Hyde."

Cuccioli is quite chipper considering the long haul to Broadway in such a dramatically and vocally challenging role. "I connect most with the darker characters," he says. "They're more intricate than the goody-two-shoes, and this role is such a wide stretch emotionally. It's not just about good and evil‹it's about the façades. Everyone has a day face and a night face. Some people don't want to acknowledge it‹some people are afraid to acknowledge it‹society forbids them from getting in touch with their own dark nature."

Cuccioli's wild character-swings are done onstage without tricks or make-up. One solo, in fact, is riddled throughout with back-and-forth character-switching. "It's done primarily with good, old-fashioned acting. I don't want to divulge too much, but I change my physical appearance so I'm another man." Director Robin Phillips favors this trickless transformation. "It's not so much the grotesqueness of what happens to his face physically‹it's what happens inside," he contends. "There've been crimes committed where you think, 'They must have been on drugs. Where did that personality find the intensity and the power to commit such an evil crime?' I don't believe they grow warts and fleshy pieces on their faces‹but something sure happens to their souls."

Beyond the constant turnarounds in the title role(s), good and evil bound about the Plymouth stage like pinballs. Eder, who plays the apple of Hyde's evil eye (a strumpet songstress at The Red Rat tavern), has a number called "Good 'N' Evil." She and Jekyll's sweet-natured fiancée (Christiane Noll) are allowed an ironic duet where they sing of their love for Jekyll. And Phillips likes positioning Cuccioli center stage, flanking him by good and evil.

"I think it's quite exciting to have the musical set in the period in which Stevenson wrote it," the director says. "A lot of its scientific projections have come true. You can actually control areas of the brain now and cure many things with drugs. You can also have many problems with drugs, as we've seen."

Phillips feels that directing Shakespeare and opera and not-for-profit theatre in Canada has well-prepared him for his first Broadway musical. "They're very similar in a sense. You deal with huge casts when you do Lear or opera, so the combination of music and language to tell great stories is, in that sense, not unusual. But I would be joking if I didn't confess it's a thrill to be doing a musical‹and to be doing a musical on Broadway is an extraordinary thrill."