Who would have thought that the new millennium would find fiery heavy metal rocker Sebastian Bach talking to Playbill On-Line?
"Maybe Playgirl - they called me enough times," quips the animated former Skid Row frontman, who is breaking hearts and bludgeoning bodies as the newest star of Broadway's Jekyll & Hyde.
Bach (who turned down Playgirl and kept his pants on when he bared his chest on the cover of Rolling Stone) isn't the first -- or perhaps even one of the first 50 -- performers you might think of when casting the role of obsessed scientist Henry Jekyll, whose experiment unleashes his evil alternate persona, the treacherous Hyde. Although he boasts a succulent, wide-ranging voice, his acting experience until now has been limited to small roles in a couple of movies. But besides his vocal cords, the 6-foot-5, 32-year-old brings to the musical a thundering stage presence, a wealth of live-performance expertise, his Adonis-like appearance, and a celebrity status, especially among a legion of loyal fans -- Skid Row's self-titled 1989 debut album sold over 10 million records - who don't comprise your typical theatergoing audience.
Shifting from one Skid Row's raucous hit songs like "Youth Gone Wild" to the more subdued tunes of Frank Wildhorn hasn't meant a complete navigational realignment. A decade ago Bach belted pulverizing hard rock while hurling himself around the stage, his long blond mane flapping wildly; although the melodies have changed, that manic stage presence is well suited for Hyde.
"I give it the same amount of energy, which is everything I got, and I go out there every night to kick ass," says Bach, who hasn't lost his rock bravado but balances it with a sense of humor toward himself. "It's just a different type of kickin' ass. When I'm doing Hyde, there is no control -- it's full all-out. To me that's what rock 'n' roll is all about." Still, Bach almost backed away, intimidated, when he first saw the script. But his agent and his wife, Maria, who serves as his manger, persuaded him to persist. "It was like `War and Peace,'" exclaims Bach, who was on tour following the release of his first solo CD, "Bring 'Em Bach Alive." "I called my agent and said, 'Dude, I can't do this; this is too heavy.' But then I just took it a small amount at a time. When the rest of the band were out getting loaded at the strip bar, I'd be in my room with my bodyguard practicing my enunciation and my diction."
Director Robin Phillips became Bach's Henry Higgins, working with him eight hours a day, six days a week for three weeks, as he learned to speak like a turn-of-the-century Englishman, without using words like "dude," "killer," and "awesome" that pepper his own conversation.
The most challenging task at hand was learning to do less. "When I'm playing Jekyll, it's very controlled and refined, and I had to learn how to be still, how to sing without thrashing around on the stage. I've been due for some discipline after the 15 years that I've spent," he says as he erupts into hearty laughter. "Robin really whipped me into shape."
Restraint, however, doesn't factor into the curtain call. On a recent evening, Bach motioned for the already boisterous crowd to bring up the volume. And when a woman in the first row handed him a rose, he promptly bit the head off, to much excitement. What would Ethel Merman say?
But then Bach's road to Broadway hardly follows the traditional route. Atlantic Records, the label that released the Jekyll & Hyde CD as well as Skid Row's albums, notified him when producers were looking for a successor to former "Melrose Place" star Jack Wagner. He auditioned with Jekyll's "This Is the Moment," Hyde's "Alive," and their duet, "Confrontation."
"They were looking for someone who can sing six nights a week really hard, has a clean, pure voice and then a really demonic voice," he says. To show off Bach's knack at hitting the high notes, some of the songs, including the show-stopping "This Is the Moment" and "Alive" have been raised from a couple of keys to a full octave.
No longer a part of Skid Row, Bach was fired from the band a few years ago, and they've since toured with a new lead singer. He's not in touch with his former bandmates and plans to go solo on future albums. "The love I had for them, which was so immense, turned into a hate that I never knew," he says, laughing. He has a four-album deal with Spitfire Records and is already working on CD No. 2.
One thing he's loving about his latest gig is the chance to stay in one place for a while, instead of playing a different city every night. Born in the Bahamas and raised in Toronto, Bach, the oldest of three children, now lives in New Jersey with his wife and two sons, Paris, 12, and London, 6.
But he won't be staying home permanently. Expect more tours and more concerts after his Jekyll & Hyde stint comes to an end. (He'll be with the show until at least the beginning of October.) "I've never taken time off to sit on my couch looking at my platinum albums on the wall," he says. "If I don't sing, I'm like a flower dying without water. I do it because it's in my soul to sing, and I don't feel whole unless I'm singing."
-- Diane Snyder