There is a wonderful 1989 film comedy called The Tall Guy in which the plot centres around an excruciatingly awful musical adaptation of The Elephant Man, entitled Elephant!. The movie includes snatches of several songs, which are the most brilliant parodies of buttock-clenching musical theatre that you’re ever likely to hear.
My advice to anyone planning to see Jekyll and Hyde, in its current touring version, is simple: watch The Tall Guy before you go. It will add immeasurably to your viewing pleasure.
Everything about this production is thrillingly misconceived. The score by Frank Wildhorn is fabulously banal, facile and largely tuneless, with the exception of the big number This Is The Moment, which as an uplifting song of hope is hopelessly mis-placed just before Jekyll turns into Hyde. The book and lyrics by Leslie Bricusse are crammed with inspired clichés, torturous couplets and painting-by-numbers dialogue.
And the spectacular direction by Martin Connor is just plain wrong in so many ways, from hiding Marti Pellow behind a high laboratory counter to forcing the poor man to endure not one but two toe-curling sex scenes with no more menace or danger than he displays when he first pops a child’s balloon as Mr Hyde. Yes, you read that right: to demonstrate the pure evil of Jekyll’s alter ego, one of the first demonic deeds he executes is to pop a child’s balloon.
You almost expect Bricusse and Wildhorn to be standing at the back of the stalls, like Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder in The Producers, watching the audience’s reaction transform from horror-struck astonishment at the appalling Springtime for Hitler to utter delight when they realise the whole thing has to be one big joke.
Unfortunately for all concerned in Jekyll and Hyde, everyone is taking it far too seriously for it to be a joke. This could easily be a five-star review if everyone had their tongue firmly in their cheek and played the show as the hysterical self-parody it almost is. Almost, but not quite. Poor Pellow is left using his admittedly sumptuous singing voice to belt out crass platitudes in a sub-Russell Watson, cod upper-crust, accent. His hideous transformation is ingeniously achieved by the theatrical coup of sweeping his fringe forwards and putting on a top hat and cape. Extraordinarily, nobody seems to be able to see through this cunning disguise.
Meanwhile, the two girls who are bafflingly attracted to the selfish, priggish git who wreaks hilarious havoc on Victorian London’s gentry sing a duet that would love to be I Know Him So Well but just isn’t.
The Jekyll side of my nature prevents me from naming and shaming anyone else involved in this expensively packaged fiasco, and by the looks of some of the faces at curtain call, many of them will be only too glad when the tour ends and they can put as much distance as possible between themselves and it.
The Hyde part of me, on the other hand, would suggest that if you’re the kind of theatregoer who enjoys a spot of unintentional hilarity at the acutely embarrassed expense of the performers, then this show comes highly recommended.