“Jekyll & Hyde,” the spooky musical coming to Casa Mañana for a nine-performance run on Saturday, has proved to be popular with audiences across America since it debuted in Houston in 1990. It has toured the county often and enjoyed an almost four-year run on Broadway from 1996 through early 2001.
Apparently, the show — based on Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1886 novella “Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” a horror story of drug-induced madness and murder— really knocks ‘em dead in Korea, too.
“ ’Jekyll & Hyde,’ for whatever reason, is Korea’s favorite show. It has played there to sold-out houses for decades,” says Bradley Dean, who plays the title character (or should we say “characters”?) in this production, and who has toured with the show in South Korea. “We were told that even if they don’t speak English, they speak ‘Jekyll & Hyde.’ They know all the numbers from listening to the original cast recording.”
And like the Koreans, Bradley also loves this show and playing a highly demanding part that requires him to carry the show while, in a sense, playing two people.
“I love the role. To sing [composer Frank Wildhorn’s] music is the same sort of thrill as listening to it. But, without a close second, it is the most exhausting show I have ever done. It doesn’t stop. He just runs from beginning to end,” says Dean, who has an extensive musical theater résumé that includes being involved with several Broadway productions. “The emotional range, the vocal range and the physicality of it all are incredible. I lost 20 pounds in Korea. It drains you down.”
But Dean is not complaining.
“As a singer, it is really a joy because you get to open up and use your entire range and sing to the rafters,” says Dean.
Dean especially admires the way this musical, and his characters, are written.
“I was very surprised at ‘Jekyll & Hyde’ when I first came to know it. It is so organic and there is nothing the character does that doesn’t make perfect sense to me as an actor,” he says.
This lead turn also allows Dean, who often plays a heavy, to be a good guy (at least half the time).
“I have made a career out of very dark roles,” says Dean, a native of Pennsylvania who now lives in New Jersey. “They are always asking me to kill somebody. Apparently my pool of rage is easy for me to tap into.”
Casa Mañana, however, has mostly tapped into Dean’s talents rather than his rage over the years.
“I love this theater and I love Texas. This is my fifth show here,” says Dean, who has impressed in non-lethal roles in musicals here that have included “Camelot,” “Evita” and “Fiddler on the Roof.”
He has also had the less-than-enviable job of serving as an understudy or “stand by” for one or more roles. Players in those positions have to be ready to go on at a moment’s notice — which is exactly what happened to Dean the first time he had to abruptly take on a lead in a Broadway musical.
“It was ‘Man of La Mancha,’” says Dean, remembering the night the lead suffered a vocal problem early in a performance. “They had to make an announcement that I would be taking over the part of Don Quixote for the rest of the performance. And, when they did, from backstage I heard 3,000 people go ‘Oh, no.’”
As if that warm welcome was not enough, Dean was also battling a lack of proper preparation.
“The first time I went on, I had not really been rehearsed,” he says.
But, in the end, Dean tilted at all his windmills and won the initially disappointed audience over.
“They gave me a standing ovation. And, better still, it was a night that my mother was in the audience, by sheer chance.”
More monsters, murder and mayhem onstage
Madness and murder are not the typical elements of a successful musical, but there are a few other shows that could be cited as singing and dancing stage responses to monster and slasher movies. And some of them have been enduring hits.
- The Phantom of the Opera — The longest running Broadway musical of all time has its roots in a horror film based on a spooky 1910 novel by Gaston Leroux. The title character in this Andrew Lloyd Webber musical is a creepy dude in a half-mask who skulks around the bowels of the Paris Opera House, emerging only to engage in occasional artistic extortion (“Christine better sing that role”) and the odd kidnapping. But he is much more horrifying when he rips the mask away in the 1925 silent film version, starring the famous “Man of a Thousand Faces” Lon Chaney.
- Young Frankenstein — No one dies in this 2007 stage musical adaption of Mel Brooks’ funny 1974 film of the same title, but it’s a killer all the same. Yet, since it lives in the shadow of Brooks’ smash hit musical “The Producers,” it is an unfairly neglected show. It had a modest 15-month run on Broadway, and pops up now and again in regional and community productions. But, when done properly, it is a winning show that makes good use of its source material while also giving the work a separate identity of its own. There is nothing scary about it, but it does its own monster mash in grand style. (This totally frivolous musical should not be confused with the very serious play “Frankenstein,” closing this weekend at the Dallas Theater Center.)
- The Rocky Horror Show — Before it became the famously interactive “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” that launched a million midnight screenings, this wild and ridiculous ride of a musical was a stage work. This campy romp debuted in London in 1973 and bounced around a bit before pretty much bombing in a short Broadway run in 1975. But all of that was forgotten when the film version emerged in 1975, and the show became a cult classic that continues to be enjoyed in its cinematic and musical stage versions to this day.
- Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street — There is no monster in this show, but few musicals spill more blood than this 1979 tale of a homicidal London barber who frequently took more than “a little off the top” from his customers. In addition to being the bloodiest, this may also be the most richly tuneful of any of the monstrous or murderous musicals, thanks to an incredible score by Broadway musical legend Stephen Sondheim. And because of its London setting and madman lead, it is something of a cousin to “Jekyll & Hyde” (although that musical has a later time setting).
- Little Shop of Horrors — You would not think that a potted plant would make a very intimidating supernatural menace. But Audrey II, the flesh-eating bloom running the show in this comically twisted tale of romance in a florist shop, does take a heavy toll on the cast. Based on Roger Corman’s low-budget 1960 film “The Little Shop of Horrors,” this little-musical-that-could debuted off-Broadway in 1982 and, despite a short Broadway run, has been a favorite in community theaters ever since.
- Chicago — A sexy murderess tops the cast in this enduring stage classic, which was a play (“Chicago” in 1926), then a movie (the silent “Chicago” in 1927), then another movie (“Roxie Hart” in 1942), then twice a Broadway musical (“Chicago” in 1975 and in a 1996 revival), and then a movie again, (“Chicago” in 2003). The show is the longest-running American musical. It is now in the 22nd year of its latest Broadway incarnation and tours regularly. You may have seen it during its recent stop to slay audiences at Bass Hall.
- Cannibal! The Musical — This is probably not one you know, unless you happen to be familiar with the relatively obscure 1993 film on which it is based. But you do know the creator of the film and the show: Trey Parker, of “South Park” and “The Book of Mormon” fame. The musical stage incarnation of Parker’s horror spoof just had its American debut in Madison, Wisconsin, last year. So we may have to wait a while before we take a nibble of this one.
Punch Shaw, Special to the Star-Telegram
Jekyll & Hyde
Through March 11
2 p.m. Saturday, Sunday and March 11; 8 p.m. Saturday, March 9 and March 10; and 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and March 8