By David Lefkowitz
26 Nov 1996
Since group sales are the life's-blood of any show hoping to build an advance for a lengthy Broadway run, on Nov. 25 the creators of the Broadway-bound musical Jekyll & Hyde -- Leslie Bricusse, Frank Wildhorn and director Robin Phillips -- offered a special presentation of show highlights at the Imperial Theatre.
Geared to wow and woo a casual Broadway audience rather than a cynical New York crowd, the production did a bit of the former, but also threw the audience into unexpected laughter during elements of the presentation's hyper-romanticism and slickly commercial gloss.
The show is expected to open across the street, at the Plymouth Theatre, March 18, 1997.
Pace Theatrical Group Exec VP Gary Gunas made a brief introduction to the presentation (which was staged at 5 PM and repeated, for a different crowd, at 7 PM). Author/lyricist Leslie Bricusse then told the audience, "the show goes into production today. Only once before have I been this excited about a project, and that was my first Broadway musical, 35 years ago, Stop The World, I Want To Get Off."
Bricusse then introduced composer Frank Wildhorn, who got even warmer applause but did not speak. Bricusse continued, "Stop The World was produced in only 10 weeks -- back when Frank was three! -- and I thought all shows were like that. We've been working on Jekyll since we first came up with the idea in 1988. We had a regional try-out at Houston's Alley Theatre and have since overcome every nightmare problem a show can have." Bricusse then paraphrased Larry Gelbart's famous line, saying, "If Hitler were alive today, I hope he's out of town with a musical."
Bricusse also took pleasure in quoting an "early producer" of Dr. Jekyll responding to a personnel problem: "Don't worry -- we'll double cross that bridge when we come to it."
The theatre lights went dark for the opening, which began with a (recorded) bonging chime and ominous organ music. Portentious recorded narration about the time and place of Jekyll followed, as the audience sat in the dark for nearly two minutes. "From the darkness of Victorian passion, it lunges," the narrator intoned. "There are two sides to every story, Jekyll and Hyde."
With that, the stage lights came up on the five-piece band and Christiane Noll, in a tasteful black dress. Her work on the pretty ballad, "Once Upon A Dream," reminded this writer of the way Lonette McKee was able to turn the huge Gershwin Theatre into an intimate cabaret space for her solos in Show Boat. Noll, and the song, received solid applause.
Then Robin Phillips, Jekyll's director, described the show thus: "A world of gaslight, candlelight and moonlight. Ladies, the actors will be so close, you can reach out and touch them. Gentlemen, as the leading lady presses to pass you by, she'll be so close you can smell her perfume." And the set? "It's made of glaassssss...and silk."
Glassy and silky Linda Eder, starring as Lucy, then came out and sank in a huskier, more European style than Noll, with some Streisandian gestures for effect. Her song, "Someone Like You," was not quite so well received, though audiences seemed fairly impressed with her singing range.
Next came star Robert Cuccioli, tanned and sporting the kind of wavy Samson hair even Fabio can't boast. He and Noll dueted, quite urgently, on "This Is Who I Am."
Cucciolli then pushed his mid-range voice on the show's signature theme, "This Is The Moment." These are the lyrics: "This is the moment, this is the day...when I send all my doubts and demons away... When all of the dreaming, scheming and screaming become one."
After a duet for Noll and Eder, a white screen came down and audiences were treated to Jekyll And Hyde's promotional video. Opening vignettes included standard person-coming-out-of-the-theatre encomiums and then segued into the popularity of the show's score. "This Is The Moment," especially, has become an anthem for all sorts of events and occasions. A montage of baseball players sliding into each other as the song played finally roused giggles from a laugh-starved crowd, but the dam really broke when the video flashed this statistic: More brides are choosing songs from Jekyll And Hyde than any other show on Broadway for their weddings. The video then offered a clip from Clinton's inaugural, featuring an African-American singer belting "This Is The Moment" with all her heart. That close-up then cut to President Clinton watching her on a TV monitor as he smiled and nodded his head to the music.
At this point, the producers' point about the show's mass appeal was made, but at the expense of a sustained mood for the 45-minute presentation. Alan Spivack, a potential investor in the show (he already has money in Chicago and Grease) was sitting next to me. He turned and asked, "Why are they laughing? Are they taking it as a joke?" A Playbill staffer who attended the 7 PM staging said that this time the video was prefaced by Phillips telling the audience, "Well, we're all family. Think of this as something humorous among friends."
Linda Eder then closed the presentation by singing A New Life.
As for comments overheard outside the theatre afterwords, two men in their thirties were joking about Phillips' "glass and silk" monologue, though a bulky, blue-jacketed fellow told his friend, "It's great. When this comes in, it'll be so big."