Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Jekyll, Adapted

It's time for some Jekyll and Hyde history again!

Theatrical history featuring Jekyll and Hyde is a familiar topic to my long-time followers. Previously, I've discussed the Wildhorn musical's weird past and the very first plays based on R. L. Stevenson's novel.

Today, I thought I'd introduce you to three other theatrical adaptations of Jekyll and Hyde's story I find interesting.

1 & 2: The Other Musicals

I cannot believe I live in a world where three of these exist.

Frank Wildhorn's Jekyll & Hyde the musical is far from perfect. I've discussed this before. It took the creative team years to complete it, and the script still keeps changing in the newest productions. The show is riddled with plotholes and melodrama.

Now it turns out the flawed musical has two identical twins.

Jekyll and Hyde is composed by Norman Sachs, with Mel Mandel's lyrics and Lee Thuna's book. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, then, is composed by Philip Hall, with book and lyrics by David Levy and Leslie Eberhard.

Stevenson's book does not feature women. Both musicals however create two new female characters: an angelic bride and a hooker with a heart of gold. Sounds familiar? It's of course a common theme in all Jekyll and Hyde adaptations, but even so...

Sachs's musical actually predates the Wildhorn show. It premiered in 1968, titled After You, Mr. Hyde, and was revived in 1990 under the title Jekyll and Hyde. The musical was even televised. Wonder if Wildhorn was aware of this version, or if the similarities are a coincidence?

The New York Times reviewer Alvin Klein describes Jekyll and Hyde as "a completely conventional, thoroughly uninteresting musical rooted in the romantic traditions of operetta (minus the essential melodiousness) with a desultory bow in the direction of spooky melodrama (without the chills, thrills and tingles)."

Fun fact: Jekyll and Hyde features a prostitute called Lucy. At least Jekyll's virtuous bride is known as Margaret instead of Lisa or Emma!

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, then, premiered in 1998. It makes a surprising decision: it casts two different actors as Jekyll and Hyde. A refreshing take on a classic... Or maybe just completely missing the point.

Otherwise, the show is clearly inspired by the Wildhorn musical, or maybe trying so hard to be different it ends up being exactly the same. Klein, though, actually calls it better than its better-known counterpart – asking "why, then, is Dr. and Mr. less bad than Jekyll & Hyde?"

You can read reviews of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde here and here. Or maybe check out the photo gallery. Could be from any production of the Wildhorn show, couldn't it?

The story of Jekyll and Hyde is timeless and layered. It asks big questions about the nature of man and leaves them unanswered, up for the reader to ponder upon. So, how on earth does it always turn into a cheesy musical featuring the madonna–whore complex and a black-and-white understanding of good and evil?

Luckily, there are also other sorts of adaptations. Such as...

3: Jekyll and Hyde for Three

Last winter, a rather unique version of Jekyll and Hyde toured the United Kingdom. Jo Clifford's Jekyll & Hyde, performed by a cast of only three actors, gives the classic plenty of new spins.

Clifford's play moves the events from Victorian London to a dystopian London of the future. In this version, Jekyll is a cancer researcher, trying to find a cure for the deadly disease. Looking for fame and glory via experiments, the scientist creates Mr. Hyde, and London turns a little bit more dystopic still.

The original novel characters of Dr. Lanyon and Mr. Utterson are also featured in this play, the former as a woman and the latter as Jekyll's ex-lover. A subplot revolves around a movement re-criminalising homosexuality, while another highlights the way modern society treats women. Read more about the plot in this thorough review.

This play sounds very, very interesting to me. Based on the reviews I've read, the text is far from perfect and sounds a bit over-the-top in all its horror – but even so, based on the very same reviews, it sounds very intriguing and thought-provoking.

The themes featured in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde's story will never go out of date. I believe this play, with the correct cast and the right director, could prove to be a grown-up, actually unsettling and disturbing interpretation of the classic. In other words, it sounds like everything the musicals are not.

I would be thrilled to see this adaptation live.