The story of Dr. Robert Jekyll and his nefarious alter ego Henry Hyde came to author Robert Louis Stevenson in a vivid nightmare. It’s a classic tale of the evil within us all and the way it can bleed over into our (assumedly) good and decent natures.
And now, you can dance to it.
Writer Alan Bernhoft has concocted a modernized musical version of the story that is one part “Rocky Horror Picture Show,” two parts the Who’s “Tommy,” and a dash of…I don’t know, “Cannibal: The Musical” (sue me, I thought Gershwin was a type of pickle until I was in college).
“Jekyll and Hyde the Rock and Roll Musical” takes place in modern day Los Angeles. Dr. Jekyll (Bernhoft) is a physician of some sort, and he spends his scarce free time creating a formula that will bring out man’s inner ogre. It’s never explained exactly why anyone would want to do this, but that’s science for you.
Jekyll’s fiancée, Anne (Lisa Peterson), and lawyer friend, Michael (John Heffron), are understandably concerned that Henry’s meddling in things he doesn’t understand. Henry laughs this off, all the way to the lab, where he shoots himself up with the Hyde formula. This being the 21st century, Jekyll can now offer a nifty modern biochemical explanation for his methods, but the end result is the same: the evil Mr. Hyde emerges and embarks on a merry rampage across the city, whomping the unwary with his antique English walking stick.
In case you skipped the title of this review, this is also a musical. And unlike some of its ilk, barely two minutes of dialogue go by in “Jekyll and Hyde” before the characters break into song. This can be a mixed blessing. Many of Bernhoft’s compositions (especially “Henry” and “Little Girls”) are energetic affairs, reminiscent of mainstream Broadway work. Others fall a little flat, or just seem to serve as filler. The song “Some Things,” a call-and-response between Henry, Anne, and Michael, exhibits one of the flaws in filming musical numbers: that of the singers doing nothing but standing around looking at each other. I realize Bernhoft and Champagne didn’t exactly have Baz Luhrmann’s budget to work with, but a West Hollywood apartment isn’t the most compelling setting for a musical set piece. In another instance, Jekyll sings the ode to his lady love, “Anne,” while wandering along a babbling brook in a forest locale that would look right at home in a Starland Vocal Band video.
The reason I’m griping about “Anne” is because it almost seems like part of another movie. The paranoid in me wonders if the creators inserted this scene deliberately in order to play a joke on film reviewers, because other than that, the songs are solid. The numbers Bernhoft sings as Hyde are accompanied by a variety of odd visual effects that effectively convey Hyde’s increasing dominance over Jekyll’s actions. The Mr. Hyde makeup is well done, and somewhat reminiscent of John Barrymore’s classic portrayal.
Bernhoft himself gives a fine performance. His interpretation of Jekyll gives insight into the good doctor’s incipient madness, but it is as Hyde that Bernhoft really enjoys himself. He is clearly having a grand old time running around beating up winos and hookers (Hyde’s victim roster has been updated for today’s sophisticated audiences) with a stick, but he never lets go of the malevolent intelligence that is the trademark of the character.
My only real question is why nobody in the city of Los Angeles – especially the seedy places Hyde frequents – bothered to pull a gun on this freaky looking guy in a funny hat. The guy’s armed with a *cane*, for crying out loud. As long as you’re updating the Jekyll and Hyde story for the modern era, why not freshen up his tragic demise by having his ill-fated friend Michael blow his head off with a Desert Eagle or something?
Non-animated musicals are scarce these days (I’ll leave it to the reader to determine whether that’s a Good Thing or not), and while I don’t see “Jekyll and Hyde” sparking some kind of revival in the genre, it’s a refreshing take on an old story. It recalls classic horror films, while at the same time paying homage to the twilight years of the Hollywood musical.