DALLAS -- It's tough to pull off Grand Guignol-type, Victorian-era horror in a musical. Stephen Sondheim's Sweeney Todd handles it deftly, but in Frank Wildhorn's Jekyll & Hyde, it comes off as unintentionally campy, or at least it does in the tour that just opened at the AT&T Performing Arts Center's Winspear Opera House.
This tour, which will end with the musical's second Broadway run beginning in April (the first Broadway stint, a four-year run that began in 1997, was preceded by a tour, too), is touted as an "all-new" production, directed and choreographed by Jeff Calhoun.
Its above-the-title stars are Constantine Maroulis in Jekyll and Hyde roles and R&B singer Deborah Cox as Lucy, the prostitute whom Dr. Jekyll wants to help and with whom Mr. Hyde becomes dangerously obsessed.
The "all-new" part is mostly in the show's look, with digital projections that aid in the scenic design, a growing trend with big Broadway musicals. Unlike the projections in the new tour of Les Miserables, though, the projections here (by Daniel Brodie) don't set the location so much as the atmosphere and mood.
And then there's a big to-do with the title characters' mad scene near the end, which only ramps up the camp instead of giving us something truly terrifying through the power of good old-fashioned acting. (Remember that?)
Scenic designer Tobin Ost (who also designed the good-looking costumes) does a terrific job with the sets for specific places, such as the brothel, Lucy's bedroom and Jekyll's underground laboratory, none of which need projections to make them vivid.
Leslie Bricusse's book and lyrics boil down the essence of Robert Louis Stevenson's novella, and Wildhorn's repetitive music is almost through-composed, which turns out to be an advantage for Maroulis, who rose to fame as a top-10 finalist on season four of American Idol and has since become a bona fide Broadway star. (He also received a bachelor's in musical theater from Boston Conservatory before Idol.)
He has the volume but not quite the force of a legit Broadway tenor, and that works in most cases, except for the show's best-known song, This Is the Moment. Overall, his scenes work better when he's singing, though; when he talks, he speaks in a staccato cadence that sounds like a sketch-comedy parody of a veddy British Victorian doctor.
You definitely know when he turns into the bad guy; that curly mane of hair is unleashed from its Jekyll ponytail and swishes wildly as if under the influence of music-video wind. Dramatically, he doesn't quite have the maturity to pull off the dual roles, but Maroulis definitely has presence, which goes a long way.
By the same token, Cox doesn't have the big-belter soprano voice that helped Linda Eder build a recording and concert career after she originated the role on Broadway. But Cox does have power, vocally and dramatically, and delivers a memorable performance that should increase her theater cred.
As actors, they're both outclassed by Teal Wicks as the doc's betrothed, Emma, and Laird Mackintosh as his assistant, John. In both of these performers' scenes with Maroulis or Cox, the difference between Broadway-trained and rock- and pop-style voices is obvious.
But in a "popera" musical like this, it doesn't matter so much. This is slick and polished, and if it's a little too clean-looking for a Victorian horror tale, that should be beneficial in the long run. It's an easy-to-swallow potion that should guarantee success, again, on the Broadway stage.