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 The Theatreguide.London Review

In March 2020 the covid-19 epidemic forced the closure of all British theatres. Some companies adapted by putting archive recordings of past productions online, others by streaming new shows. And we take the opportunity to explore other vintage productions preserved online. Until things return to normal we review the experience of watching live theatre onscreen.

Jekyll And Hyde
Broadway Television Network and YouTube   December 2021

This musical based on Stevenson's horror story was an object lesson in how the American theatre scene had changed in less than a half-century since Broadway was the source of all new shows.

Conceived first as a concept album by Frank Wildhorn and Steve Cuden, it gradually gained a book by Leslie Bricusse, music by Wildhorn and lyrics variously credited to all three. Originally produced in Houston Texas in 1990, it had further productions all around the country before finally getting around to Broadway in 1997 (and going back on the road thereafter).

In its three-year run on Broadway it went through several partial cast changes, and this video recording, made late in the run, features David Hasselhoff in the title roles, supported by Coleen Sexton and Andrea Rivette.

Quick reminder: medical researcher Jekyll believes he can separate man's dark side from the light. Experimenting on himself, he releases the evil Hyde within, leading to some murders and an ultimate confrontation between the two halves of the man.

The musical defines Hyde less as evil than as pure Id and appetite, self-indulgence free of any inhibition. His crime spree is at least partly a Sweeney Todd-like vigilantism against upper-class hypocrites, and Jekyll becomes addicted to that freedom and power.

David Hasselhoff, American TV star of the 1980s, spent much of his career sending up his own image as a self-absorbed hunk, so this recording is a pleasant reminder that he is a more-then-adequate actor and strong dramatic singer.

If his acting is more external and indicating than natural that is, if you are often more aware of the actor at work than the character this is not a major problem in a musical.

He is more successful with the uninhibited Hyde than the quieter Jekyll, and he very effectively achieves the transformation with little more than messier hair, a hunched posture and a wild-eyed grimace.

The plot gives Jekyll a proper fiance, who Andrea Rivette plays with an attractive touch of feminist spunk, while Jekyll and Hyde form a kind of rivalry (the one trying to protect her from the other) over the whore played by Coleen Sexton as the real romantic heroine of the show.

The songs are good, ranging from some in the Lionel Bart show-stopper mode to others in the semi-operatic Les Miz style. 'Take Me As I Am' is an attractive duet for Jekyll and his intended, while 'In His Eyes' recalls 'I Know Him So Well' from Chess in being a sort-of-duet for the two women at opposite sides of the stage.

Inevitably there is a song for Jekyll as he starts the experiment, and if 'This Is The Moment' bears some resemblance to Bricusse's own 'Once In A Lifetime' from Stop The World, it is still a strong dramatic anthem and Hasselhoff lets rip with it.

The other big song, 'Someone Like You', the whore's discovery of a love for her benefactor Jekyll, was obviously written to be a Lionel Bart-style show-stopper, and Coleen Sexton does it full justice.

On Broadway Jekyll And Hyde was one of those cult shows that fans went back to see again and again. As my comments may have suggested, there is a quality of derivativeness and by-the-numbers about it that keeps it from the very top rank. But this polished and professionally made video has a lot in it to please.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review of Jekyll And Hyde 2021