by Sharon Eberson
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - June 12, 2011
The "gothic horror thriller" genre, as director Robert Cuccioli pegs the musical "Jekyll & Hyde," might seem to be having a renaissance, with all the werewolves and vampires and other human-sized creatures from 19th-century literature lurking on stage and screen. But the truth is, it never went away: note the many interpretations of Robert Louis Stevenson's "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," the circa-1886 story of one man's struggle to tame the monster within himself.
"These gothic horror thrillers are like opera, they don't diminish," said Mr. Cuccioli, who originated the role on Broadway and is directing Kevin Gray in the role for Pittsburgh CLO starting Tuesday. They worked together on the 2002 CLO production as well. "They last forever because they are so timely and they touch people viscerally. So people connect to the story of 'Jekyll & Hyde.' There's no wild new interpretation; the actors bring their own energy to it, so the audience will see an old friend and see it with a fresh coat of paint."
New to the show are Broadway veterans Elizabeth Stanley, making her CLO debut as the ill-fated Lucy, and Brynn O'Malley as Dr. Henry Jekyll's fiancee, Emma. George Dvorsky plays Utterson, Jekyll's loyal friend.
For the 2002 CLO production, Mr. Cuccioli combined versions of the Leslie Bricusse (book and lyrics) and Frank Wildhorn (score) "Jekyll & Hyde" scripts to create "the best and clearest telling of the story," said Mr. Gray.
"Most of that thought process happened originally, because I've done three entirely different versions of this show from the very first production I did in 1994 to the pre-Broadway tour, which was different from the previous one, and then the Broadway version, which was entirely different than everything else," Mr. Cuccioli said. "So I had three different scripts at home, with many, many different songs. I gleaned what I thought was the best and I did interpolate. So most of my ideas and changes happened originally -- and I got the blessing [of the show's creators]."
Despite a wide-ranging career since his Tony-nominated, Drama Desk-winning performance as the tortured Dr. Jekyll and evil Dr. Hyde, Mr. Cuccioli can't escape the pull of this musical, which he performed on Broadway from April 1997 through January 2001.
"Having done this, I will never have fear of doing anything else," he said.
Mr. Gray, a relative newcomer to Jekyll/Hyde said, "I'll never feel like I have gotten halfway as far into this as I would like."
His director jumped in to say, "Each time Kevin has done this, he's gotten deeper into it and has grown and he's thrown new questions into the scenario. Like what [he was] saying about doing a long run. It takes six months before you can say, 'Oh, that's what that line means.' I think this has been gestating within Kevin for the past couple of years without him even knowing it."
This time around, Mr. Gray's approach is different.
"[I'm going to] risk a kind of presentness I haven't had before, and to not fear letting the show happen to me rather than feeling like I have to happen to it, which is very muscular and quite frankly a little bit dangerous," he said.
While the two veterans wrestle with pulling together this big show, they are surrounded by an ensemble of younger performers who are at the start of their careers and the CLO season, which requires just a few days of preparation for this two-week run while the next show is also in the works.
Both men are very aware of the responsibility they have to lead by example, knowing that anyone of the young performers in a CLO ensemble can emerge as tomorrow's Broadway star.
Mr. Cuccioli brings up one such case in the 2002 "Jekyll & Hyde." "I can recall staging 'I Need to Know' with Alexander Gamignani," he said. "And you know what happened to him." Starting in 2004 with the revival of "Assassins," he has done five Broadway shows.
"I do feel that at this place in my life I have a real obligation to pass down whatever it is that I've learned, and I try the best I can to do work that leads by example," said Mr. Gray, who will begin a new role as a theater arts teacher this fall at the Hartt School in Hartford, Conn. "I want people to think, 'I can't do that,' but I want them to want to do it. That's what I was like. We all try to set the bar as high we can; that's the only way we can pass it along."
Mr. Cuccioli said, "The smart ones will pay attention to those of us who are seasoned ... ."
"Seasoned ... that's a nice word," Mr. Gray said, laughing. "Heavily seasoned ..."
The two riff on the word for a while, laughing easily, as good a measure of their mutual admiration society as their repeated testimonials.
Mr. Gray's hair is almost shoulder length for his role while Mr. Cuccioli's is cropped short as befits his next job. He will give up the director's chair and move onto the stage to play Captain Von Trapp in "The Sound of Music" and Pontius Pilate in "Jesus Christ Superstar," the latter a role Mr. Gray played on Broadway.
They banter about that for a while as well, but keep returning to the strange case of Dr. Jekyll, which both men agreed is a harder role than the monstrous Hyde.
Jekyll is educated, a member of the aristocracy and believes himself to be a moral person who has entered into his experiments with the goal of ridding the world of man's worst traits. The good vs. evil battle he has hoped to end for humanity is instead fought within himself.
"It's very primal, isn't it?" Mr. Gray said. "I think these great stories survive because it comes back to that need people have to find answers to questions that can never be answered. And now that technology has shortened our attention spans so profoundly, to suddenly sit in a darkened room and consider what's inside all of us is really profound."