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  • Writer's pictureClosing Night

Frank Wildhorn Musicals: The Crab Grass of Broadway

Updated: Nov 5, 2023

Closing Night explores two Wildhorn musicals that have come and gone from the Marquis Theater. Here is the transcript of that episode and sources used...

Composer Frank Wildhorn sits inside a theater in West Palm Beach, FL (from March 2013 during the national tour of Jekyll & Hyde)leading up to the)
Composer Frank Wildhorn in West Palm Beach, FL (March 29, 2013)

Ever since he burst onto the Broadway scene in the 1990s, Frank Wildhorn has remained an intriguing figure in American Musical Theatre. But Wildhorn’s journey is not a conventional success story, nor is it a typical path to the Broadway stage. Because although he was born in the Harlem neighborhood of New York City in 1959, it would take him decades to finally come back here and make his mark.

His first stop was Hollywood, Florida at the age of 14, when his family moved there to help his ailing father avoid the harsh winters in New York. While in summer training for his high school football team, Wildhorn would tinker around on an organ in his family’s garage. It sparked his curiosity, and he began reading and studying what he could about music and chord structure and theory...


“Okay. So cut to the end of the summer. Football season is happening, and we had a piano in the house. My mom always played the piano. So I I'm sitting one day, and I'm playing the piano, and and she comes home. She walks by and says, that's really nice. That's really good. Did you do that? Yeah. And she walks back into the kitchen, and I hear a big crash. And she dropped the groceries. She came back out and said, "You don't play the piano." And I said, "I don't know. I was playing the organ, now I'm playing here." And she said, "You know, I think you're making music." So I think from the second my hands went on the keyboard, I was writing. I don't remember ever not writing.”


So he joined a band, and throughout the early 1970s Wildhorn would play in local bars and other places, including THE strip club where they invented the wet T-shirt contest. Fast forward to him attending Miami-Dade College for two years before transferring to the University of Southern California, where he studied history and philosophy. Yet he had enough gumption to walk over to the School of Performing Arts and offer up this musical he’d written to the chairman of the Drama department, who just so happened to be the famous actor and director, John Houseman.


John Houseman, sitting in a chair in front of a brick wall
John Houseman

I went to his office, and I said, “Listen, I wrote this show, when I was in Miami, it's called Christopher. It's like Jesus Christ Superstar part 8 from a Zen Buddhist point of view.” Because, of course, that's what every Jewish kid was into back then. I wrote the book, the music, and the lyrics, and I'm sure it was as awful as I remember. But but for some reason he took a liking towards me. And those years at USC, he produced or directed all of these projects of mine. - Frank Wildhorn


It was also during this time that he saw the play Dracula, which sparked his imagination for other Victorian-era stories like Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Tales of Jekyll & Hyde. In 1980, he co-wrote an original treatment of a Jekyll & Hyde musical with Steve Cuden, who was the USC master electrician on that Christopher production, which just so happened to have been seen by a rep from Chrysalis Records. That eventually resulted in an offer for a song publishing deal.

This marked the beginning of a prolific songwriting phase in Wildhorn’s career, yielding over 250 songs published and recorded by a wide variety of artists such as Kenny Rogers, Sammy Davis Jr., Natalie Cole, and of course Whitney Houston, who recorded his biggest hit “Where Do Broken Heart Go” in 1987. And since I was and am a big fan of Whitney Houston, I have to point out the fact that this Wildhorn song became Whitney’s seventh consecutive number-one single, setting an all-time chart record on the Billboard Hot 100 in April of 1988. It beat the previous record of six consecutive number-ones, held by The Beatles and The Bee Gees. And to this day, her record still stands.


Back to Frank Wildhorn . . . during all this pop song success he was having, he was only in his 20s and was still writing musicals on the side. A second version of that musicalized Jekyll & Hyde was completed in 1986. And the musical was nearly produced on Broadway in 1988, with Terrence Mann set to star, but the production never happened because investors backed out and withdrew funding prior to rehearsals.


Not deterred by this setback, Wildhorn moved back to New York from Los Angeles in 1988, with a goal to write “more original Broadway musicals than any other American composer.” And so for the 15 years between 1995 and 2011, Wildhorn was a part of seven new Broadway musicals—an output unmatched by any other composer in the same period. The first of which was his Broadway debut by providing additional songs to Victor/Victoria. Then came his own musicals Jekyll & Hyde and The Scarlet Pimpernel in 1997. There was The Civil War in 1999, Dracula in 2004, and then Wonderland and Bonnie & Clyde in 2011.



I tell you, the the slow period was after Dracula. Dracula meant a lot to me and it opened I think it was in 2003 or 04 and was a disaster. You know? It just didn't work, and it took a while to get over that. But what happened was is there's a man named Freddie Gershon. Freddie Gershon owns a company called MTI, Music Theater International. He's kinda like my rabbi in my life. And he said, “Listen, Frank, from Victor/Victoria to Jekyll and Civil War and Pimpernel and Dracula. You had a lot of shows here in New York. You need a break, and they need a break from you, I think, as well. You know? And you are having a lot of success around the world right now with these Jekyll and Hydes." He said, "Why don't you actually go to them? Go to these opening nights, meet the producers." So I did. I did do that, you know, and I discovered the world out there. - Frank Wildhorn

As so in recent years most of his new musicals have premiered in Europe and Asia. But among his Broadway musicals, three of them have appeared at the Marquis Theater: Victor/Victoria, Wonderland, and a 2013 revival production of Jekyll & Hyde. Now, Victor/Victoria will actually get its own episode to close out the first season of this podcast, so this one is actually going to be a combo episode by covering the other two shows together. That’s because they both share a lot in common: Wonderland and Jekyll & Hyde were both written by Wildhorn, both were based on famous literary stories, both were universally panned, and both of them ran for less than a month.



 

Closing Night is a theater history podcast about famous and forgotten Broadway shows that closed too soon, hosted and produced by New York actor Patrick Oliver Jones. This first season highlights some of the shows that have come and gone from one of Broadway’s youngest venues: the Marquis Theatre. And this is the episode transcript all about Frank Wildhorn and his musicals Wonderland and Jekyll & Hyde. It has only been slightly edited for this format. You can listen to the full episode here or on your favorite podcast app:



 

WONDERLAND

Lewis Carroll’s classic tale of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was first published in 1865, and became an immediate success with adults and children of all ages. In fact, the book has been translated into 174 languages and has never been out of print. Just 21 years after that first edition was published, a musical adaptation entitled Alice in Wonderland premiered on the West End in 1886. Carroll was heavily involved in the production and casting of the musical, even paying for actor costumes. That musical pantomime version remained widely popular for years in London, and the story itself has been adapted to numerous television and movie productions. However, it would be 124 years before another major musical adaptation was made of Alice’s adventures.



Frank Wildhorn: “For me, number one I really wanted to write a kid’s piece, something for my kids. I’ve written some pretty dark, sexy, nasty, violent things over the years. And then of course Civil War we went someplace else. But I really wanted to do something for my kids. And Jake, my younger son, who is so musical, I wanted him to be involved in the process and see he magic of theater happening. So believe it or not that was one of the motivations in doing it.”

This idea phase of Wonderland began in the late 1990s, and after that he approached Judy Lisi, who was then head of the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center, with four songs and a rough story line. She felt a modern retelling of the fairy tale would be relatable to kids of all ages. That’s when Wildhorn brought on his collaborators from The Civil War to join him in this project. Jack Murphy handled lyrics and book writing, and Gregory Boyd was the director and helped with the book as well. The original vision of Alice was similar to the one in Disney's famous 1951 animated feature, only this time Alice is now grown with a child of her own and must rescue her child from Wonderland, and in so doing rediscovers her own child within.


“This show is about getting back in touch with the things that I really loved. This was about going back to my roots as a pop songwriter, being as honest and as real as I can. And, that's been part of this journey that's made it so rich for me and wonderful, and I hope that translates.” - Frank Wildhorn


The musical was workshopped in Tampa in 2007, featuring Brandi Burkhardt in the title role. After rewrites and recasting, a reading of the new script took place in Manhattan in March 2009, this time with Lauren Kennedy (see photo) as Alice and Julia Murney as the Queen. And after several months, Wonderland: Alice's New Musical Adventure went back to Tampa with yet another new cast—this time with Janet Dacal as Alice and Karen Mason as the Queen of Hearts.


And of course revisions continued during rehearsals, leading up to the show’s opening in November 2009 at the newly renamed Straz Center in Tampa and ran for six weeks. It then moved to a place near and dear to Wildhorn, the Alley Theatre in Houston, opening in late January 2010. The book was rewritten after the Tampa engagement. And at the time of the Houston opening, Boyd said: "The book we have now is quite different from the book that opened in Tampa. And we're putting in more changes, including four new songs.”

“You know, shows like Jekyll and Hyde took 17 years from conception to Broadway…This one, for all practical purposes, you know, has really been a train, and I think that's because we've learned so much along the way in the process. Every time we've put it in front of another audience, we've learned from that audience. And hopefully, we've applied those lessons into our writing and into, you know, the further development of the piece.” - Frank Wildhorn

I also want to point out that during this whole time of Wonderland’s various readings and stagings and productions, Wildhorn and Murphy were also opening their musical Carmen in the Czech Republic and The Count of Monte Cristo in Switzerland. Honestly, I don’t know how Wildhorn had the time and energy to create all these shows simultaneously. Because the following year, Wonderland was back in Tampa, but this time for its official pre-Broadway run from January 5 through January 16, 2011, with substantial changes to the book, recasting of roles, and additions to the score. Even the show title was revised and became Wonderland: A New Alice. A New Musical.


Some of the various poster options for Wonderland (the last being the one chosen).

But from Tampa to Broadway laid many hurdles, the biggest of which is always money. Producers were about $10 million short of the $16 million they were trying to raise, with just a month to go before opening at the Marquis Theatre. Mind you, none of Wildhorn’s musicals have ever recouped their investment, so that was certainly a hindrance to raising money. Then there were the mixed reviews in Tampa that didn’t help either, with the Tampa Tribune finding the show exciting and delightful, whereas the St. Petersburg Times said:


"The show is a visual feast with dazzling costumes, marvelously funky dance, and a flashy, high-tech production design...But Wonderland also has a problem: It makes almost no sense…The task of matching a coherent adaptation of Lewis Carroll's whimsical classic with Frank Wildhorn's catchy pop-rock score remains elusive...I think that Wildhorn and his colleagues still have a way to go before it has a chance of success."


So then came more casting changes to three of the principal roles, and with a new lineup in place it was time for Wildhorn and the cast to go to the studio. “Then we did the cast recording before we actually went to Broadway," said E. Clay Cornelious. "So there's a lot of the music on the cast recording that is not even in the Broadway show that we actually settled on."

E. Clayton Cornelious as the Caterpillar singing to Janet Dacal as Alice onstage.
E. Clayton Cornelious as the Caterpillar and Janet Dacal as Alice

Cornelious played the Caterpillar in the show, a role that was originally given to Tituss Burgess. But along with all the cast changes happening before Broadway, there were also changes to the creative team--oh wait, correction. The producers said, “There are not going to be any changes to the creative team for the incoming production of Wonderland.” But they go on to acknowledge that “friends of the production have been invited into some rehearsals to offer opinions on polishing certain sections of the show.” Translation: director Scott Ellis was brought in to restage the production, and composer/lyricist Rupert Holmes was there to rewrite it.

I mean us getting a new director, we got a new writer. So we were dealing with just a whole different team when we got to New York … It was really weird. You know? The whole team changed ... Yep, first day of rehearsals, new script. - E. Clayton Cornelious

This transition to a new creative team and script prompted cast members to adapt quickly and find their rhythm within an evolving production. For E. Clay there was the added pressure and excitement of this being his first leading role on Broadway. But as I mentioned, this part wasn’t originally his, so he had extra the challenge of making this role his own. He didn’t want to just imitate Titus Burgess—I mean who can, right? So E. Clay and even his agent voiced concerns about the song's suitability for his particular vocal style and talents. Well, Wildhorn is never one to walk away from a chance to write more music, so he and Murphy came up with a basic outline of a new song:


“And they said, ‘Clay, we want you to come into this room.’ They sat me down and they said, ‘Here are the lyrics. We want you to just start singing.’ And they were like, this is what we're thinking…as far as, like, the melody. I started singing that, and what became that song is everything that I did in that room at that time, just singing the words. And I came up with the actual song, with Frank Wildhorn and the writer, (“The Advice from a Caterpillar”) the one you're hearing on the album. So that was really incredible that I actually got to create and make a song with Frank Wildhorn and the writer, Jack.”


While some changes like E. Clay’s song improved aspects of the show, others added confusion and strain to an already demanding process. With the broadway opening date looming, the mounting pressure to present a finished product prevented the creators from the necessary time to truly assess and adjust the show. As a result, Wonderland remained in a state of constant flux throughout the preview period.


“Like, we were just so nervous every single night because we were getting just different stuff every single day. So, you know, some of those previews is literally preview of a new scene or a new song or a new something or other, which changed almost every single day. That was, like, one of the most insane processes of my lifetime, but it was very you know, I learned a lot from that.” - E. Clayton Cornelious


As the show itself was coming together so did the funding for the production, and Wonderland opened on time April 17, 2011. But I guess you could say the cast had mixed feelings about the show. While they recognized the talent within the cast and gave their best onstage to make the show successful, they also knew it was now in the hands of audiences and especially the critics.


As with most Wildhorn musicals, the audiences were fairly positive about the show with an average rating of 7 out of 10 according to BroadwayWorld. But on the hand, like most Wildhorn musicals, the critics were disparaging and savage, giving it not even 3 stars out of 10. Bloomberg News was the nicest review saying, “It isn’t the most original or coherent musical. But it's light on its feet, and a nice option for kids.” Entertainment Weekly admitted, “There is some inspiration at work in Wonderland…but to quote the White Rabbit, 'It's just sad.’” Backstage said it was a "failed production” and The New York Post called it “Blunderland.” But then, there was New York Magazine:


“Wonderland is the worst kind of nonsense, the sort that attempts little and achieves less. Turgid with its own emptiness, this unctuously charmless show is proof that nothing from nothing somehow equals less than nothing. No "ironic" cutaway or wink is too dated for this show-even by Broadway's forgiving standards. It sounds piped-in from Hell's very own lite-FM station.”

Unfortunately, regardless of all the changes to script and score and despite the best efforts of the cast and the new and old creatives, Wonderland faced a swift closure on Broadway. It ended May 15, 2011 after 30 previews and 33 regular performances.


Janet Dacal, center, plays Alice in this musical inspired by Lewis Carroll's classic children's books, at the Marquis Theater.
Janet Dacal with Wonderland ensemble (Sara Krulwich/The New York Times)

"So we found out on a Tuesday that we're closing on Sunday. So that's how much time I've had to even process that. Like, now I have to do these 8 shows, and they're gonna be my last 8 shows, and never having that happen to me before. Like, oh, now I'm out of work, and I had all these hopes of collecting money over the summer or for the year, and in my first lead role. And now what am I gonna do, kind of a thing. So you know, all of those things were in my brain and it was very frustrating and it was a very bittersweet moment.” - E. Clayton Cornelious

It’s interesting to note that while half the principal actors, including E. Clay, would eventually go on to do other Broadway shows, for the other half, Wonderland represents the last show they performed on Broadway. Such is the transient and elusive nature of the theater profession, especially Broadway. I mean look at Frank Wildhorn, he faced challenge after challenge, not just with Wonderland but most all of his show, and yet he kept coming back to Broadway time and time again.


Listen to my full interview with E. Clayton Cornelious about his time in Wonderland...


 

JEKYLL & HYDE (2013 Revival)

Jekyll & Hyde represents the bookends of Wildhorn’s theater career in New York: his first original musical on Broadway and a revival production that remains the last time he was on the Great White Way. The show almost made its debut in 1988, the same year Wildhorn relocated to New York from Los Angeles. And with that move, he essentially put his pop music career behind him and became very focused on musical theater.



As I mentioned in the opening, Jekyll & Hyde began in 1980 with librettist Steve Cuden, however, it ended that decade with a different one, Leslie Bricusse—famed composer and lyricist who wrote the soundtrack to one of my favorite musical films, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory in 1971, not to mention his work on Broadway throughout the 1960s and 70s as well. While Cuden still retained both co-lyrics and co-conceptual credits on Jekyll & Hyde, it would be Wildhorn and Bricusse that would complete a finalized version of the musical in 1990. It tells the story of a gentle Dr. Jekyll, who experiments on himself to discover a cure for his father's mental illness, and in so doing changes into the animalistic Mr. Hyde. The duality of his love life also plays out as he is caught between the love of his fiancé Emma and a lady of the evening, Lucy.


Since their first attempt to bring this musical to Broadway failed, for the second try Wildhorn and Bricusse chose a similar route that Andrew Lloyd Webber used early on in his career: the concept album. But he needed two singer to play the title role and Lucy. Having watched Linda Eder win the TV singing contest Star Search in 1988 and having heard Colm Wilkinson in Les Miserábles, Wildhorn found the two singers he wanted for his album.


Linda Eder and Colm Wilkinson pose beside a picture of the 1990 concept album of Jekyll & Hyde.
The 1990 concept album featuring Linda Eder and Colm Wilkinson

Also in 1990, Jekyll & Hyde finally had its world premiere at the Alley Theatre in Houston, Texas, where it broke box office records, played to sold-out houses, and won acclaim from critics, leading to the run being extended twice. Some time after that, Wildhorn and Bricusse actually lost the rights to Jekyll & Hyde for a short while. But that was eventually cleared up, and the two continued to forge ahead with edits and rewrites and the making of a second concept album. This 2-CD set was put together in 1995, this time with Anthony Warlow in the title roles, and was dubbed “The Complete Work” of Jekyll & Hyde. It’s also notable for featuring Broadway legend John Raitt in the last cast recording he ever made.


Robert Cuccioli as Jekyll on Broadway

“And we put a tour together, a pre Broadway tour, with no stars. Very interesting thing to do. But people love the show, and they gave us the money to do it, and it was the highest grossing tour that year. It's really what started making Bob Cuccioli a star and really Linda, you know, a star in the theater.” - Frank Wildhorn

As the show was touring the country, rewrites continued including changing the name of Jekyll’s fiancé. This happened “midway through the First National Tour when they decided to better differentiate” between Lucy the prostitute and Lisa the fiancé, and so to make her sound more upper class they changed Lisa to Emma. Both the tour and that second concept album were so successful that they had actually financed the eventual Broadway run, which opened on March 21, 1997. Here’s what Variety magazine had to say about it:


"Jekyll & Hyde has half the personality of its title character, and it’s the dour, humorless half. Despite a handful of big-bodied pop ballads that push their way through the dense operatic score, this much-traveled and revised musical quickly settles into a self-serious sameness that pretty much drains the well-known horror tale of whatever guilty pleasures lurk within.”


This was indicative of the many critical reviews of the show (which has been a theme throughout Wildhorn’s Broadway career). Nonetheless, the production received multiple Tony Award nominations: Robert Cuccioli for his performance of the title character, along with costume and lighting design. And Wildhorn may have been left out of the mix, but his writing partner, Leslie Bricusse was nominated for Best Book of a Musical. The Broadway cast recording was also nominated for a Grammy Award. Throughout its run, a host of big names took over the title role, like Jack Wagner and Sebastian Bach, but probably the most memorable and unlikely was television star David Hasselhoff, who joined in October 2000 and was with the show until it closed in January 2001.


“One of the great funny anecdotes about, This is the Moment, is that the producers, the original Broadway producers wanted to cut the song. Because they said, yeah. It's a great song. They said, but it stops the action. You don't really need it. You could just drink this stuff and get on with the show. And we said, we fought the good fight, and we won that one. Thank God that this song stayed in the show.” - Frank Wildhorn


Ultimately, Jekyll & Hyde defied critical opinions and enjoyed a robust Broadway run, ending with a total of 1,543 regular performances. But despite the long run, the musical only recouped about 75% of its $7 million investment, and closed at a loss (another theme that has followed Wildhorn throughout his Broadway career). However, it did outlast all of its fellow shows that opened in the 1997/98 season, fueled by a loyal fanbase affectionately known as “Jekkies" leading to it becoming the longest-running show in Plymouth Theatre history.

Wildhorn also made history during this time for having three of his shows on Broadway at the same time: Jekyll & Hyde, The Scarlet Pimpernel, and The Civil War. It’s a distinction he shares with Andrew Lloyd Webber, who would ultimately go on to have 4 shows running at the same time, the first to accomplish that since Rodgers and Hammerstein had their own Broadway takeover in the summer of 1953.



“You know, a lot of things have to align. Luck has so much to do with all of this stuff. You know, whether when you write a number one song, You know, that's not might not be the best song you ever wrote, but so many things had to align for that to happen. The right artist at the right time, when nothing else in that genre is out there, when that artist is the priority of the record company, so money is thrown to that. I mean, there's so many things. Same thing here. You know, Jekyll and Hyde, thank god, you know, had a 5 year run, so it was running for a while.” - Frank Wildhorn

Wildhorn actually mentions Jekyll & Hyde having a 5-year run on Broadway in several interviews I read or watched; the actual timeline was 3 years and almost 9 months. But considering the national tours that happened before and after the original Broadway opening, this particular incarnation of Jekyll & Hyde did last more than 5 years…so we’ll let his exaggeration slide.


Constantine Maroulis and Deborah Cox onstage in Broadway-Bound Jekyll & Hyde Tour
Constantine Maroulis and Deborah Cox

But never one to be content, though, Wildhorn revisited this gothic musical in 2006 with his Resurrection recording, and again in 2012 with yet another concept album. This time with American Idol finalist Constantine Maroulis, R&B diva Deborah Cox, and longtime Elphaba actress Teal Wicks. These three performers, along with director/choreographer Jeff Calhoun, would also be leading yet another national tour of Jekyll & Hyde that would travel around North America on its way back to New York City. The journey began with rehearsals in New York in August of 2012 before going to La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts. There the cast and crew spent three intensive weeks in rehearsals and performances before officially kicking off the tour in San Diego.

Both Maroulis and Cox are certainly known for their big powerful voices, but these pop singers have paid their dues on the stage as well. Maroulis was a replacement for Sammy in The Wedding Singer and starred in the original company of Rock of Ages (for which he received a Tony nomination), and for Cox, her Broadway debut came when she was asked to pick up the title role in the closing months of Elton John and Tim Rice’s Aida and she’ll be starring in the forthcoming Broadway revival of The Wiz, which is currently set for April 2024.


“Not a lot of people are familiar with our acting backgrounds individually, but we both grew up as actors and not only just, you know, recording artists and whatnot, but she she s wonderful and she gives me so much on stage and and really, the whole ensemble is tremendous. We have a great group of veteran actors and stars in their own right. And believe me, if you heard all of them sing individually, you know, you'd be blown away as well.” - Constantine Maroulis

Despite the many years of history that come with Jekyll & Hyde, this tour was essentially a new production “with only a general blueprint” of what came before. Maroulis and Cox hadn’t seen the original production nor were they that familiar with its various incarnations, so they approached the show with a freshness that allowed them to go in new directions without feeling tied to what came before. Director and choreographer Jeff Calhoun also approached this version with fresh eyes. He had been at the helm of another Wildhorn musical, the short-lived Bonnie & Clyde, but he followed that up with a 2012 Tony nomination for Best Direction of Newsies. So maybe he had something to prove with this revival production of Wildhorn’s best-known musical...


“I would say it's a production where I've surrounded myself with people at the top of their games. I think I have the best design team right now. We have three actors that were born to play these roles and hopefully we're doing justice to one of Frank Wildhorn's best scores and Leslie Bricusse’s wonderful book and lyrics.” - Jeff Calhoun


Taking a suggestion from his scenic and costume designer, Calhoun deployed modern video elements that would put more emphasis on the scientific and technical aspects of the Victorian era, rather than its social etiquette and orthodoxy. He also convinced Wildhorn and Bricusse to trim a few ballads that had led the story astray into non-essential tangents. So they shed some of the show’s more melodious elements in favor of enhancing its dramatic aspects, with Bricusse also incorporating additional spoken dialogue to infuse more character and humor in the musical.

The creators also reintegrated two songs that were originally part of the 1990 version, but had subsequently been removed from the score. And having singers from the rock and R&B worlds gave Wildhorn a lot to play with, in hopes of bringing out better performances and creating a more natural connection to the characters and their story. For example, most of the leading men before had been baritones, for example, but now with a rock tenor in Maroulis, Wildhorn expanded the range and harmonies to match. The same went for Cox:

“Well, there are some new songs that were added that weren't in the original production. Songs like “I Need to Know” and “Bring on the Men” (see photo). This is a little sexier, edgier, a little darker kind of vibe. And the songs and the orchestrations have been kind of tailor made to our voices, so we've brought our own heart and soul and have made this more of a revisal.”

As a singer and songwriter herself, Cox could appreciate the hard work being done to not only bring this classic score back to the stage but to expound upon it as well, to tell this story in a new, edgier way. But one thing remained the same: the vocal demands of this musical on its lead actors.


“Jekyll and Hyde is a little bit like the Olympics of singing. You've got to be on your game and you've got to have some incredible and unusual gifts to do Jekyll and Hyde. And ask anybody who has played Jekyll and Hyde or anybody who's played Lucy, and they'll tell you that.” - Frank Wildhorn


And as the show wound its way across North America, tweaks were still being made, especially by Calhoun. He would visit the production at various points along the tour as a way to consistently address previous critiques of the show's lack of nuanced characterizations, so he and the team actively worked on refining this aspect throughout the tour.


Calhoun rehearsing with Constantine Maroulis and Deborah Cox
Jeff Calhoun rehearsing with Constantine Maroulis and Deborah Cox (Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times)

For example, after a scene rehearsal during their Los Angeles stop, for example, Calhoun worked with Maroulis and Cox to find specific moments between Jekyll and Lucy. How might this encounter affect her soul? Why would Jekyll be drawn to Lucy despite being engaged to a proper Victorian fiancée? These gradual developments of connection were always part of the plan for producer Nick Scandalios. He laid out this seven-month tour as an extended exploration period, giving ample time for the revival and its lead actors to develop characters, experiment, and refine their performances.


“It's different because I'm a part of a big show telling a story. So I have to stay within the theme of what the show is saying and talking about concerts are a little more I can manipulate it a bit more because it's a set six, seven songs or whatever. And I have a band, so it's different. But this is much more fun because it's a great cast, a great crew. It's amazing songs, amazing music, and it's a thrilling opportunity every single night to be in front of an audience and orchestra.” - Deborah Cox

One of the more notable changes was made to “The Confrontation,” a rather demanding and challenging song for any actor, who must go back and forth between singing as Jekyll and then as Hyde in the same song, in essence singing a duet with himself (which led to much confusion and even derision from critics of the original production). With this new iteration, the duet structure remains. However, Jekyll would now be “confronting a prerecorded Hyde in the form of a risible series of projections on the back wall.”



“I think it's still a bit of a process for us. We were in a rehearsal room, like, eight, nine weeks ago, so we're still sort of, like, figuring some things out.” - Constantine Maroulis

This must’ve been a very different kind of national tour for this cast. When I did Addams Family and Evita, we rehearsed for 6 weeks, and then once we opened in our first city, it was simply a matter of maintaining the show at each and every stop. But for Jekyll & Hyde, their tour was like one long rehearsal of constant adjustments and notes and edits to a show that was gearing up for its real opening on Broadway with a limited 3-month run at the Marquis. For cast members like Teal Wicks, I’m sure they were ready to finally be done with that 27-week tour.


Teal Wicks and Constantine Maroulis holding hands in a scene from Jekyll & Hyde.
Teal Wicks and Constantine Maroulis

“Oh, it's great. It's kind of like a huge sigh—not of relief, but just a big—I feel like we've been running and going, and being on tour and sort of our breath has been slowly getting held up, and now we can just kind of breathe and embrace it all. And it's incredible. It was a really great night.” - Teal Wicks

So with a new concept, new leads, new songs, and new technical elements, what did New York think of this Jekyll & Hyde revival that opened on April 18, 2013? Where better to start than with the New York Times, who said, “Let us give a warm welcome back — or maybe just a shrug, a sigh and a tip of the bowler hat — to the return of Jekyll & Hyde…Unfortunately there’s no way to digitally airbrush away the hokum that pervades this whole show.”


Other critics gave the same sort of shrug and sigh to the show as well. The Hollywood Reporter said, "It’s akin to a well-designed haunted house from which you find yourself eagerly longing to escape.” While the Associated Press warned that “these Frank Wildhorn songs will make your ears bleed,” and sarcastically added, “Who cares if there’s way too much lightening and overacting?” Chris Caggiano, a professor at the Boston Conservatory of Music, attended a press performance and wrote about his experience:


The audience was largely composed of voters from the various award processes for New York theater (Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle, etc.) I could tell that the folks seated around me were having the same visceral reaction I was to the proceedings. Toward the end of the show, the character John, Jekyll's friend, confronts Jekyll with a sword to prevent Jekyll from harming the members of the wedding party. "Please," Jekyll says, seemingly inviting John to run him through. "Set us all free." The section of the audience where I was sitting, as if on cue, erupted into laughter. "Yes, please," we seemed to say. "Put us all out of our misery.”


Most critics though did applaud Maroulis, Cox, and Wicks for their vocals, while the show itself barely got a single clap. But then there were the audiences, especially the Jekkies, who loved the darker and edgier and sexier version of Wildhorn’s classic gothic tale.


But there just weren’t enough of these enthusiastic theatergoers to keep the show running. After two weeks of previews and just two weeks into its limited engagement, this revival had yet to hit the $500,000 mark in ticket sales, with a dismal 48 percent audience capacity. And just to add a dash of salt to the wound, the show was completely shutout from Tony Award nominations. So producers decided to make Jekyll & Hyde’s limited run even more limited, and announced they would be closing 7 weeks early on May 12, 2013, with just 15 previews and 30 regular performances.



CLOSING THOUGHTS

But Jekyll & Hyde as a show is actually anything but a flop due to its wide appeal in regional theaters in the U.S. as well as elsewhere in Europe and Asia, which is now where Wildhorn focuses most of his attention and creative efforts—having opened numerous new musicals as well as his back catalog in other countries to much broader acclaim and appeal.


“By the way, the lifestyle of writing for Europe with 40, 50 piece orchestras that you can't do that here. And Asia, you know, where Jekyll and Hyde was 6 years in Tokyo, and and Jekyll and Hyde is still in South Korea. It's still there. I mean, it's been years. And and so the world opened up, and that became a new adventure.” - Frank Wildhorn

And so Wildhorn’s success is in large part due to that failure with Dracula, which caused him to find greener and more receptive pastures elsewhere. It’s a stark example of learning from setbacks and making lemonade from what critics have called his lemons. Even his demeanor and personality, I mean in every interview I watched in researching this episode, Wildhorn had a smile, an ease, and an excitement for what he was talking about. He obviously loves what he does and the life he’s built for himself.


And so it’s interesting that this smiley, mild-mannered man can create work that ignites such a visceral love-hate relationship among critics and to a lesser degree with audiences. Critics may decry his recurrent use of clichés, the stereotypical portrayals of women, the bombast of his scores, and the formulaic love triangles as persistent flaws in his musicals. Yet the paradox lies in the undeniable allure of Wildhorn's music — the soaring melodies and vibrant compositions that captivate even those critical of his narrative choices. But regardless of what the critics have said with each version and concept, Wildhorn recognizes that it was Jekyll & Hyde that put him on the map and will forever be his legacy as a musical composer.


“And it's the gift that keeps giving, but it meant so much, and it still means so much to my life, And so many people on Broadway started in Jekyll and Hyde. And I believe Jekyll and Hyde will be looked at very differently as the years go on because in some ways, it really was the first show, you know, to take a pop musical vocabulary and theater and combine them. You know, of course, there was, was hair and things like that. They were really Pop rock scores put into a theatrical context. But I think Jekyll and Hyde in time will prove some interesting things, and we'll see. You know, I'm optimistic.” - Frank Wildhorn

 
Closing Night theater history podcast cover art

Closing Night is a production of WINMI Media with Patrick Oliver Jones as host and executive producer. Dan Delgado is the editor and co-producer, not only for this podcast but also for his own movie podcast as well called The Industry, which I highly recommend. Maria Clara Ribeiro is co-producer. A special thank you to E. Clayton Cornelious for his time and candor in discussing his experiences in bringing Wonderland to the Marquis Theatre. Join us next time as another production makes its way to closing night.

 

Sources and materials used to create this episode...


WILDHORN

Jekyll & Hyde (1997) - 1543 performances The Scarlet Pimpernel (1997) - 772 performances

The Civil War (1999) - 61 performances

Dracula (2004) - 157 performances Wonderland (2011) - 33 performances Bonnie & Clyde (2011) - 36 performances Jekyll & Hyde (2013 revival) - 30 performances


Music:


WONDERLAND

Tampa & Beyond

Wildhorn Interviews:


JEKYLL & HYDE

Beginnings & OBC:

2012 Tour:

2013 Broadway Revival:

Reviews:

Closing:

Comments


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