Kim Newman on... Jekyll & Hyde: The Musical

RT Obscura 3: Kim tackles The Hoff in two separate forms.

by | October 8, 2007 | Comments

RT Obscura with Kim Newman

RT Obscura, a new bi-weekly column by renowned critic Kim
Newman, sees the writer plumbing the depths of the Rotten Tomatoes
archive in search of some forgotten gems. In his third column, Kim looks at
David Hasselhoff’s crowning achievement of 2001:
Jekyll and
Hyde: The Musical

Jekyll &
Hyde: The Musical
from 2001 is an awkward hybrid — not only in its
genre (horror musical) but its format (telerecorded Broadway performance). 
These things used to be more common on UK TV, where Brian Rix farces or operas
were broadcast live or as live from theatres; now we have a paradoxical
situation whereby the technology exists to record – easily and cheaply – even
high school productions. But there’s little audience interest in sitting through
the results, which always fail to capture the immediacy of theatre and seem
hobbled and hectoring next to a proper TV show or film. 

This lengthy (134 minutes) transcription of a Broadway performance has played on
US cable, and is

available on DVD
.  Interesting to
completists (I own up here) and the legion of

fans we’re told exist in Germany, it might prove a
long haul for everyone else. 

I’ve not seen the 1973

Kirk Douglas
TV movie musical Jekyll & Hyde,
but it hasn’t much of a rep; this lengthy effort from the writer-composer team
of Leslie Bricusse and Frank Wildborn tries to mount the oft-told tale as a
big-emoting, often-sungspieled musical melodrama, inclining more towards the
coach party Lez Miz/Phantom end of the spectrum rather than the heights of
Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd.  It starts as if it were more closely based on the
Reuben Mamoulian film than the novel, with Henry Jekyll (his motivation is a mad
father who barely registers) rejected by a stuffy committee when he petitions
funds for his experiments and going through a lavish engagement party with
spirited Emma Carewe (Andrea Rivette), daughter of dignified Sir Danvers
(Hammer’s old Robin Hood, Barrie

Jekyll’s friend Utterson (who, in typical Broadway colour-blind casting, is

George Merritt
) takes him to the Red Rat music hall-cum-brothel in the
East End, where they watch the cavortings of dancer Lucy (a corsetted Coleen
Sexton), who sings a song about evil which inspires further experiments in
laboratory and boudoir.  At the end of the long first act, Jekyll drinks the
potion and transforms.  As Hyde, Hasselhoff undoes his pony-tail and grins
through scraggy hair: no make-up effects are used, not even of the Richard
Mansfield type, though Hasselhoff modifies his singing style (of course, the
usual Hyde gimmick of gruesome false teeth isn’t possible in a show that depends
on the songs). 

The plot gets a bit wonky in the middle of the evening, with the expected
Hyde-Lucy business mostly taking place offstage and a surprising body-count as
Hyde gleefully murders the hypocrites (a whoremongering bishop, etc) who turned
down Jekyll’s grant application (in a possible footnote to the theme of duality,
some of the supporting cast play dual roles as pillars of society and criminal

The finale comes at Jekyll’s wedding, with a transformation mid-ceremony and
Utterson putting an end to Hyde with a swordcane-thrust.  It has the sort of
score which is stirring, bombastic and quite effective without being in the
least memorable — the songs have instantly-forgettable,
you’re-sure-they’ve-been-used-before titles like ‘Once Upon a Dream’, ‘This is
the Moment’ and ‘Someone Like You’.  The video production means a few swoops
across the stage and shots of an applauding audience, and the inclusion of Hasselhoff’s
‘I’ve come a long way from the beach and the talking car’ curtain
call speech.  Otherwise, this is content to embalm the show for posterity. 

A curiosity.