Constantine Maroulis and Deborah Cox
  • Photo by Charles Bennion
  • Constantine Maroulis and Deborah Cox

Jekyll and Hyde: The Musical
* * 1/2 stars
Durham Performing Arts Center
Through Jan. 13
Tickets $35-$95

If you’re not a Deborah Cox fan, you’ll probably become one if you see Jekyll and Hyde: The Musical at the Durham Performing Arts Center this week. The Grammy-nominated R&B star pushes the rest of the cast out of the way with her round, rich voice and nuanced singing. It’s too bad this show doesn’t keep her onstage enough.

Cox, as hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold Lucy Harris, belts bawdy brothel songs like “Bring On the Men” as well as she croons moony ballads “Such as Someone Like You” and “A New Life.” The same can’t be said for co-star Constantine Maroulis, who’s only up to the Hyde half of his dual role of innovative, headstrong Doctor Jekyll and lunatic murderer Edward Hyde.

Maroulis moves comfortably in Hyde’s muscular stalk, and Hyde’s vocal turns fit the Rock of Ages star’s skills perfectly. But his Jekyll is stiff and hesitantly voiced, suffering from the restraint he applies in order to contrast the character with Hyde. It’s a little silly, also, that director Jeff Calhoun makes Maroulis take his glasses on and off and put his flowing black hair in and out of a ponytail with each of his character’s transformations. We get it.

Calhoun’s choreography doesn’t help Maroulis either. The stagehands, in the process of shuttling various set pieces on and off, exhibited more interesting movement than the stars. Featuring almost constant video projection onto parts of the set, Tobin Ost’s scenic design was busy but effective. In the song “Confrontation” in one of the play’s last scenes, Jekyll argues with a gigantic video Hyde who’s periodically distorted and washed by waves of fire as if a pop metal show had broken out.

Beautiful vocal turns by Cox and Teal Wicks, who plays Jekyll’s fiancée Emma Carew, provide the best moments in Jekyll and Hyde, which bears so little relationship to Robert Louis Stevenson’s short novel The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde that Stevenson is not even credited in the program. This is the real obstacle for Maroulis as a performer. While Leslie Bricusse took pains to address Stevenson’s thematic concerns about science, ethics and psychology, he also bolted both a dual love story and some light politics onto the story. Neither Lucy Harris nor Emma Carew exists in Stevenson’s text. It’s no wonder Jekyll goes woefully undeveloped.

Jekyll and Hyde had a four-year run on Broadway beginning in 1997, garnering four Tony Award nominations including an unlikely Best Book of a Musical for Leslie Bricusse. All allegiances to Stevenson’s original plot aside, this musical’s narrative is flawed, and not in that understandable way that accommodates runs of musical numbers without any dialogue between. Lucy doesn’t come onstage until the eighth number, 40 minutes after the performance begins, and only sings six songs.

That’s a crime. Cox makes her numbers feel like concert performances. The minute she finishes a song, you might find your hand reaching for the remote to fast-forward to her next number.