The singer-songwriter known as Remember Jones always seems to have a million musical projects going on. So you would figure that only a meaty musical theater role would lure him back into that world, even though that’s where his performing roots lie. He’s got one in the title role of “Jekyll & Hyde,” which is being presented at the Axelrod Performing Arts Center in Deal through Nov. 19.
Fans of his music know he’s a theatrically inclined performer who likes to deliver his songs with big, raw emotion. And that’s just what the Jekyll/Hyde role calls for, especially for the musical’s cornerstone song, “This Is the Moment” (see video below). The anthem-like number is sung at the point in the story when Jekyll, a well-intentioned doctor in Victorian Era London, recklessly decides to use himself as a guinea pig in an experiment. Jekyll’s goal is to find a way to separate the evil from the good in the human soul, in order to rid humanity of its dark side, once and for all. But, as you probably know already from Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1886 novella “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” or the many stage and film adaptations that followed it, including this musical (which ran on Broadway from 1997 to 2001, with a brief revival in 2013), Jekyll’s boldness has disastrous consequences. The evil Mr. Hyde takes over and goes on a murderous spree, while Dr. Jekyll is unable to stop his alter ego.
Unfortunately, the musical — conceived for the stage by Steve Cuden and Frank Wildhorn, with music by Wildhorn and book and lyrics by Leslie Bricusse — is not as timeless as Stevenson’s story, with a number of unmemorable, cliché-filled songs, and a plot that doesn’t really hold your interest, despite its occasional jolts of violence.
Jekyll has a fiancée, Emma (Adrianna Milbrat), who spends the play innocently perplexed by her intended’s behavior. But the central relationship is between Jekyll/Hyde and a prostitute, Lucy (Rebecca Krainik), who is in relationships (one wholesome and one abusive, as you might imagine) with both Jekyll and Hyde. Extremely improbably, she never puts two and two together to realize they’re the same person.
Most of the people Hyde kills are one-dimensional jerks who have wronged Jekyll; Jekyll really personifies revenge more than pure evil. And no story really develops; Jekyll just falls deeper and deeper into madness, until the inevitable tragic ending. The musical’s philosophical or psychological insights ultimately seem kind of … obvious. Yes, we all have both a good side and a bad side, and are sometimes drawn, against our will, to the bad. So what?
On the positive side, Krainik, like Remember Jones, belts out her numbers with arresting power. Leaving the theater, I overheard a number of people raving about what they had just seen. And that’s understandable, given the occasional musical fireworks.
But I’m just hoping that the next time Remember Jones returns to the stage, he does so in a musical that offers more overall substance.
“Jekyll & Hyde” will be at the Axelrod Performing Arts Center in Deal through Nov. 19; visit axelrodartscenter.com.