Frank Wildhorn’s Jekyll & Hyde is bringing the famously dark hero back to Broadway this spring in a new production starring Tony nominee Constantine Maroulis. For a closer look at how this classic novel became a musical with an ardent fan base, read on!
A Novel Take on Good vs. Evil
In the late nineteenth century, Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson had the idea for a story about the duality of good and evil intertwined via one man’s split personality. In 1886, the Treasure Island author published The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, a psychological thriller that would launch him into literary stardom. Set in London, the novel centers on a respected doctor named Henry Jekyll who develops a potion that transforms him into a murderous version of himself, which he calls Edward Hyde. As a lawyer named Utterson investigates the strange connections between the two, Jekyll is forced to end his own life in an effort to eliminate Hyde for good.
The book became an immediate success, as short horror novellas—called “shilling shockers”—were voraciously consumed in the Victorian era. Just a year after its publication, a stage adaptation of Jekyll opened in London, starring actor Richard Mansfield in the title role(s). Mansfield would forever be linked to the play, reprising the role in the 1887 Broadway production (and producing it years later).
As early as 1908, filmmakers re-told the horror story, including a famous 1920 silent adaptation starring John Barrymore and later versions starring Fredric March (1931) and Spencer Tracy (1941). Stevenson’s novel has inspired parodies, knock-offs, television shows, a campy restaurant and—yes—a big-budget Broadway musical.
Jekyll, Meet Jazz Hands!
In the late ‘80s, pop composer Frank Wildhorn teamed with lyricist Steve Cuden for a high-concept musical based on Stevenson’s novella. Amid financing problems, the show didn’t make it to Broadway, and Leslie Bricusse came on board to rewrite the lyrics.
Wildhorn traveled to London in 1989 and enlisted Colm Wilkinson and Linda Eder for a concept recording of the show, even though it hadn’t been performed. “I struck out everywhere,” wrote Wildhorn in liner notes for the 2012 album. “I was told, ‘In America, we don’t do concept recordings of shows that don’t yet exist.’”
Jekyll & Hyde finally got its world premiere production in May 1990 at the Alley Theatre in Houston, starring Broadway vet Chuck Wagner and Eder (who would marry the composer eight years later) as Lucy. The show broke box office records and extended twice. "It was a gigantic success," Wildhorn recalled in an interview. "The only reason we had to stop was because everybody had other commitments they had to get to."
This Is The Moment
Following the premiere, another concept recording was made, this one featuring Anthony Warlow and Carolee Carmello. “It was the first American show to have two concept records before the show was even near Broadway. We didn’t even have a commitment for Broadway then!” said Wildhorn.
A pre-Broadway tour was launched in January 1995, starring Robert Cuccioli as the title characters and Eder as Lucy. By the tour’s halfway point, the production had accrued enough funds to make it to Broadway, and in April 1997, Jekyll & Hyde opened at the Plymouth Theatre (now the Schoenfeld), with Cuccioli and Eder reprising their leading roles and Christiane Noll in a Broadway debut as Jekyll's fiancee Emma. Also making their debuts in supporting roles were Emily Skinner, Brad Oscar and John Treacy Egan.
Critics maligned the show (calling it “clumsy” and a “plastic monster assembly kit of a musical”), but fans ate it up. Newsweek dubbed them “Jekkies,” and their devotion elevated Jekyll & Hyde to cult classic status. The Broadway run continued for almost four years and helped launched two more national tours before closing on January 7, 2001. A filmed recording of the final performance (starring David Hasselhoff) was released on DVD.
The Way Back to Broadway
With more than 700 North American stagings and 100 international productions, Jekyll & Hyde has remained a popular hit for the past decade. “What is amazing about this score and Frank Wildhorn’s composition: They are written like pop songs you would hear on the charts, and they have great storytelling built in,” said Broadway.com Star of the Year and Tony nominee Constantine Maroulis, who was tapped to play the title roles in a national tour culminating on Broadway. “This is an epic title; it’s known all over the world. It seems to resonate with people.”
A newly imagined production launched in San Diego on October 2, 2012, directed by Newsies helmer Jeff Calhoun and starring Maroulis, Grammy nominee Deborah Cox as Lucy and Broadway favorite Teal Wicks as Emma. “What I love about the show is that it’s soul stirring, suspenseful and will leave you thinking about the story and its theme,” Cox told an interviewer while on tour. More importantly, “the Jekkies have given us their blessing as far as our production is concerned, so we’re really happy.”
After a 25-week tour, the show landed on Broadway at the Marquis Theatre for a limited engagement scheduled to run through June 30. “I believe Jekyll will be looked at very differently as the years go on,” said Wildhorn, who went on to compose The Scarlet Pimpernel, The Civil War, Wonderland and Bonnie & Clyde, among other musicals. “In some ways, it really was the first show to take a pop musical vocabulary and theater and combine them. I think Jekyll and Hyde, in time, will prove some interesting things. I’m optimistic!”
Jekyll & Hyde opens at the Marquis Theatre on April 18.