PLAYBILL ON OPENING NIGHT: Jekyll & Hyde and Orphans — Hyde and Seek
By Michael Gioia
Meet the first-nighters at the Broadway openings of Jekyll & Hyde and Orphans. Alec Baldwin, Ben Foster, Tom Sturridge, Constantine Maroulis and Deborah Cox were there — and so was Playbill.
The star-studded Broadway double-header on April 18 began with a trip to the theatre district's newest orphanage — not the Municipal Girls Orphanage housed at the Palace Theatre in the revival of Annie, but the broken-down and battered home of Phillip and Treat contained inside the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre in the Broadway bow of Lyle Kessler's Orphans.
"I can't wait to see Alec," said an excited (and very pregnant) Hilaria Thomas, the new wife of Orphans star Alec Baldwin, as she made her way through the red carpet on 45th Street and into the Broadway house. "I've seen [the show] three times already, and I still get excited to see it every single time. It's just incredible. I know him as a person, and then I see him do this, and I get very proud. I think when you know somebody, and they do a performance, you either cringe or you're very proud. [I'm] very proud."
All in attendance for the early Thursday-night curtain (Corey Cott, Ben Fankhauser, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Tina Fey, Jane Krakowski, Dakota Fanning, Elizabeth A. Davis, Melissa Errico, Sienna Miller, Winona Ryder, Richard Schiff, Debbie Harry, Gregory Jbara, a pregnant Anna Chlumsky and more) were anxious for the new three-person drama to make its Broadway debut — including the theatre's ushers. "It's a good show," said an usher from House Right of the orchestra. "It really is!"
No matter how good the show — in which two orphaned brothers (played by an engaging Tom Sturridge and a gripping Ben Foster) are seeking a sense of belonging, and a powerful businessman (Baldwin) is seeking a hideout — proved to be, the buzz from a very public exit by former cast member Shia LaBeouf had already made the production one of the most anticipated titles of the season.
Baldwin set things straight on opening night. "Let me tell you something — and I haven't had the opportunity, I don't think, to say this before — I've been fired from jobs before," he told Playbill.com at the show's after party at the swank Hell's Kitchen venue Espace. "I got fired from a movie because there was somebody they wanted to cast, and he wasn't available, and they hired me, and then the other guy became available, and they fired me — a movie many years ago that was a great opportunity for me. It's not a pleasant thing for anybody. It's not at all what we wanted to have happened — not at all. The good news is that we ended up with the people who we were meant to do the show with, and Ben has been great, and I love him."
Those in attendance at the show's after party praised Foster for stepping up to the plate, including playwright Kessler. "It was a rocky beginning, and Ben Foster caught up real fast and is amazing [with] what he did being on the stage for the first time. It's amazing, and he got stronger and stronger," said Kessler. "It was cast in heaven. Sometimes you're blessed."
Sturridge, who garnered critical acclaim for his performance of the mentally-off and socially damaged Phillip, said of his process, "I work quite instinctively. I don't really set out plans. I kind of follow what I think is the most honest route through the rehearsal process, and what I end up with is hopefully the truth… I suppose the first place I started was, 'How do you articulate sort of lucidly to an audience that a boy has not left his house in 15 years? How would he think, how would he look, how would he move, how would that make him different to anybody else?' That's where it all began, I think."
"The characters have no basis in any realistic pieces of my life," said playwright Kessler of the work. "I've never been a pickpocketing thief or been hidden in a closet for years… It's really a parable. It's not a realistic play. It's an allegory. It's like a modern-day fairytale, but the emotions are so strong and real, as in all wonderful fairytales, so I think people relate to it."
"It gets very raw and painful in the end," added Baldwin, before dipping into the crowd to join his Orphans co-stars.
View highlights from the production below:
Creatives Frank Wildhorn, known for the musical's iconic score, and Tony-nominated director Jeff Calhoun were among the first to enter the pressroom outside the after party on the eighth floor of the Marquis.
"The 27 weeks we've been on the road has just served to be our spring training — grooming ourselves for tonight on Broadway," said director Calhoun, who knew nothing about the musical Jekyll & Hyde before signing on to direct. "I'd be lying if I said [that my reason for directing the show was] other than initially [being] asked to do a job. And, I'm a director for hire, and I like to work, and so it actually started with that. But you couple that with my love for Frank Wildhorn and my love for [executive vice president of the Nederlander Organization] Nick Scandalios, the Nederlanders and those three leads — Constantine, Deborah and Teal [Wicks] — and how could I say no? I think it's a dream for any director."
"You've got to remember, I'm a jazz musician. That's what I am first, so I believe in keeping things alive and improving. That's why there are no two productions of Jekyll & Hyde around the world that are the same because I don't do cookie-cutout versions," added a smiling Wildhorn on his opening night. "In this case, what was so cool was that Jeff Calhoun had never seen the show before, so he literally went from scratch — back to the source material with [book writer and lyricist] Leslie [Bricusse] and I — and kind of recreated it."
Wildhorn was all abuzz about debuting this new version of Jekyll & Hyde. "My kids are here, my mom's here, Linda [Eder] is here tonight — who inspired this music — so it's all kinds of things and wonderful emotions, but all good."
How did it feel for Eder to sit in the audience? "Surreal," she said. "I was just talking to Bob about that. You know, I suppose there are people who have been lucky enough to be in shows that were great to the point where they were able to have a revival, so maybe that's something that they're used to, but obviously, for me, [sitting through a revival of a show I was in] was a first-time thing… The show is very different. It's its own animal, but when things pop out — where a dialogue pops out that we did — I suddenly remember, 'Oh, yeah… That line.' It's this weird juxtaposition of [remembering] myself in the show and yet it being a brand-new show. I really don't know what to feel."
Cuccioli, who currently stars in Broadway's Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark and couldn't attend the opening-night performance, added, "I will be back to see it on one of my nights off. [Jekyll & Hyde] was a huge show for both Linda and I…"
Eder jumped in: "Yeah! … There's a whole generation of young theatre kids that grew up — this was their show — and now you meet them at stage doors, and they say, 'Hey, that was my show. That's what got me [interested in theatre] and made me want to do this.' It should be back."
Jekyll & Hyde is back — with a new feel and new arrangements of Wildhorn classics. "It dawned on me right in the middle of 'Someone Like You' that [Linda Eder] was here. It's such an iconic song," said Cox. "I got her blessing. She really loved our version of the show. That means the world to me because there's nothing more of an honor than someone who you admire, and who is like a mentor, and who is extremely amazing as a vocalist in her own right, who says that you did a great job. I'm happy with that."
"[Wildhorn] really wanted [us] to make it our own," she continued. "He made sure that the orchestrations and the instrumentation suited our voices and suited what we do… I didn't want to copy her. She had her own style and her own version and has her own legacy from the show, and I was just trying to do my own thing as well."
The man of the hour, Maroulis, said, "I think that's what's great about theatre — you don't want to see the same old production. You want to bring new life into it, and we've very much enjoyed doing that for this… I think I'm the only person to ever do this show eight times a week, but I feel great. They sort of catered the show to a lot of [our] strengths, and I'm very connected to the material, so investing [in the character] every night has been really great for me."
"Bob [Cuccioli] has been always a dear friend," he added, "and I'm so happy he's here."
"I did not want to do a revival," admitted Wildhorn. "I'm too young to do a revival, but I will do a re-imagination of it, and so Jeff did that, and the Nederlanders let us do that, which is wonderful. And then, as Constantine and Deborah and Teal and the rest [of the cast] came into our lives, we framed it around their talents, and I think that's what it is."
Celebrating with the cast on their opening night were Ashley Fink, Steve Kazee, Megan Hilty, Aaron Tveit, Mark Sanchez, Austin Howard, Frankie Grande, Jay Manuel, Tommy Tune, Steve & Maureen Van Zandt, Sierra Boggess, Lenny Venito, Kara Lindsay, Lavon Fisher-Wilson, Orfeh, Maurice Hines, Andy Richardson, Joshua Colley and Jerry Mitchell.
(Playbill.com staff writer Michael Gioia's work appears in the news, feature and video sections of Playbill.com. Follow him on Twitter at @PlaybillMichael.)
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