Monday, March 16, 2015

Hyde and History

I've been a terrifyingly enthusiastic Jekyll & Hyde fan for a whole year soon. (I first saw the musical two years ago, but it took a year for my enthusiasm to take flight.)

Being terrifyingly enthusiastic about something for a year, you're bound to learn something about it.

I've learned that writing Jekyll & Hyde was a long process. All composer Frank Wildhorn's musicals have a history of concept recordings and revisions, but the development of Jekyll & Hyde is especially full of cuts and edits. I've mentioned that for Jekyll & Hyde, Wildhorn has written twice the amount of songs needed. It's not an exaggeration.

In this post, I'm going to share four things about the history of Jekyll & Hyde the musical I find especially interesting.

1) The Ballad of Jekyll & Hyde

Jekyll & Hyde the musical officially first premiered in Houston in 1990. Seven years later, a revised version was staged on Broadway. But even before the Houston premiere, the creative team – composer Wildhorn and lyricists Steve Cuden and Leslie Bricusse – had written and produced two concept albums of the show.

Only two of the songs featured on the original 1986 demo made it to the eventual Broadway production: Alive and Murder, Murder. Facade, the number that has 2–4 reprises in current productions of the musical, was curiously absent... But in its place, the demo CD begun with a song called The Ballad of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde.

Doctor Jekyll so good and kind
A gentleman always so refined
But lying in wait was another side
All that's evil personified


The 1986 concept album only featured ten songs, but next year, Wildhorn and Cuden produced another demo. On the 1987 album, The Ballad was used exactly like its obvious inspiration, Stephen Sondheim's The Ballad of Sweeney Todd. It opened the first act, was reprised after intense plot twists, and finally finished the show with lyrics that recapped the morale of the story.

The Ballad ends with the melody from Alive that defines Hyde in the current edition of the show. It's the same tune Hyde sings at the end of Jekyll and Hyde's duet Confrontation – a song that wasn't present on either the 86 or the 87 concept album!

In the current edition of the show, Facade has replaced The Ballad. Interestingly enough, the 87 demo featured both The Ballad and Facade.

2) Scheisse Stride

Let's talk about Simon Stride.

In most productions of the musical, Stride doesn't have much to do. He's a secretary at the hospital. In the engagement party we find out he's Emma (or in some script editions, Lisa)'s ex-boyfriend. Then he disappears for two hours and resurfaces only to meet his end in Mr. Hyde's hands during the last scene. Looking at the show as a whole, it seems his only function is to get killed.

That wasn't the case with Dr. William Scheisse, Simon Stride's first incarnation.

Yes, Dr. William Scheisse. Yes, I think we've all heard German profanities before – that means exactly what you think it does.

On the 1987 concept recording, Stride sings Good 'N' Evil, the song Lucy performs in The Red Rat in some of the newer productions.

Evil's the one which is nothing but fun
Good is the one which is not
You must decide which is which
And what is what

Very subtle.

It's just right Stride should sing a song fit for The Red Rat. He used to own the place. In the first editions of the script, Dr. Scheisse was a busy man: he was a respectable doctor by day, sabotaged Jekyll's experiments on the side, and worked as a pimp by night.

When the Houston premiere approached, someone snapped to their senses and decided to get rid of the absurd Dr. Scheisse subplot. This didn't please actor Bill Nolte, who was supposed to play the character in 1990. As the villainous William Scheisse transformed into the meek Simon Stride, Nolte left the production.

Knowing this, Stride's character in the current musical productions seems kind of like a human tail bone – a remnant of something that used to be there ages ago but has since faded away.

3) Mr. Ripper

In Robert Louis Stevenson's novel Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, the year of events is written as "18—".

Many scripts of the musical state the story takes place in the year 1888. It's a nice-looking number, so why not... But in fact, it seems the year originates from the early concepts.

The second act opening song Murder, Murder was first recorded on the 1986 demo. There, instead of taking Jekyll's revenge on the Board of Governors, Mr. Hyde arbitrarily murders working girls walking the streets of London.

Sounds familiar? Jack the Ripper murdered East End-based prostitutes in the fall of 1888.

That's two in the last five nights.
That's two who've paid the price.
First Nettie, now Marie!
Could the next be you or me!

Still subtler than "Look at this, another murder / Just like that other murder".

In Dacre Stoker's hideous Dracula sequel Dracula the Un-Dead, it turned out Jack the Ripper was actually a vampire. Here, he used to be Mr. Hyde. It seems people who write adaptations based on gothic novels simply cannot resist mixing the real-life murder mystery with whichever monster their adaptation features...

Well, at least the team behind Jekyll & Hyde the musical had the sense to scrap the idea.

4) Mr. Uttersons

Dr. Jekyll is famous for his split personality. But who knew his friend Mr. Utterson had two different natures as well!

In Stevenson's original novel, the narration focuses on Utterson. We follow Jekyll's lawyer friend when he solves the titular strange case. His investigations are more important than his personality. In the musical, Utterson serves as someone for Jekyll to talk to. The character is important because he helps to move the plot forward, but in most scripts, he doesn't have much of a personality.

So it's a bit odd that the few characteristics he has differ wildly from production to production. This is evident in the scene where Jekyll and Utterson visit The Red Rat.

Sometimes, Utterson is a party animal. It's he who suggests that Jekyll should relax and take a detour to The Red Rat. There, the madame recognises her loyal customer and yells for the girls to serve champagne for "Mr. Utterson's party".

Other times, Utterson doesn't feel like celebrating. Really doesn't. He tries his best to stop Jekyll from going to the brothel, helpfully reminding him that it's not safe, and for goodness' sake if we really must go, I will absolutely refuse to have a good time. In these cases, it's Jekyll who insists it'll be fun and drags his friend along.

The original Broadway production took the party animal path, but in newer productions, it seems the moralist version prevails. Wonder if Utterson will ever find his groove again?

Bonus round: Bad Production Choices Bingo

The script of Jekyll & Hyde the musical has been through a lot. Today, with Dr. William Scheisse and Jack the Ripper safely removed from the plot, it seems many productions feature reoccurring directional quirks instead... Keep this bingo sheet at hand the next time you watch any Jekyll & Hyde video on Youtube, or even better, see the show live.

Someone usually shouts bingo! before the first act is over.


  1. I just read every article on your blog related to Jekyll & Hyde. Now I SO wish I could've seen the turun kaupunginteatteri production of JH- I want to see the nuanced and possibly gay-interpreted Utterson. And those amazing sets! Thank you for writing about it, so I could at least experience it vicariously.

    1. Hi there! Thank you so much for your comment, I'm glad you've found my J&H posts interesting! The Turku production was something else indeed – have you seen all the photos here:

      I don't know if you speak Finnish, but if you do, listen to the last third or so of this podcast episode (I'm one of the co-hosts): – in the episode, we talk about the possible gay-interpreted Utterson w/ the actor and the director (and it turns out Utterson being in love with Jekyll was indeed canon).