BEVERLY — Halfway through the second act of the musical “Jekyll & Hyde,” the battle between good and evil in one individual becomes clear. The moment arrives in the stunning duet “In His Eyes,” which brings together Jekyll/Hyde’s two loves, his chaste fiancee Emma and the prostitute Lucy for a number that brings down the house at North Shore Music Theatre.
The clarity comes from the glorious vocals delivered by Tess Primack as Emma and Diana DeGarmo as Lucy. In this one song, these two performers provide more emotional complexity than the rest of the show combined. More, in fact, than the many laments Constantine Maroulis delivers in Dr. Jekyll’s laboratory as he transforms himself from the brilliant scientist to the madman Hyde. The show’s other highlights come from DeGarmo’s tender “Someone Like You” and Primack’s “Once Upon a Dream,” in which the two women once again sing about their love for Dr. Jekyll and his alter ego.
That repetition, however, is the heart of this musical’s weakness. Based on “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” the novella by Robert Louis Stevenson, composer Frank Wildhorn and book writer/lyricist Leslie Bricusse’s musical adaptation gets bogged down in exposition, slowing the action to explain, and explain again, why the brilliant Dr. Henry Jekyll becomes obsessed with experiments he believes have the potential to separate a man’s tendencies to be good from his desire to be evil. Denied the opportunity to test his potion on a patient in a mental institution, Dr. Jekyll experiments on himself, which sends him down a murderous path of self-destruction.
“Jekyll & Hyde” is directed by Robert Cuccioli, who created the title role on Broadway in 1997, and has directed several productions at regional theaters around the country. This production also boasts Maroulis, the former “American Idol” finalist, who is reprising the role he played in the 2012 Broadway revival. With all this insight and experience, it seems reasonable to expect a nuanced take on this passionate character.
Maroulis, who also earned a Tony nomination for his performance in “Rock of Ages,” certainly nails the notes and has the vocal chops for Wildhorn’s key changes, a fearsome growl to differentiate Mr. Hyde, and the hair-tossing technique required for the dizzying “Confrontation.” But both Cuccioli’s direction and Maroulis’s performance feel somehow distanced from the action, especially in comparison to Primack and DeGarmo’s evocative renditions.
The challenge seems to lie in rising above Wildhorn’s blandly derivative score and Bricusse’s Dr. Seuss-like rhymes. Even “This Is the Moment,” the anthemic ballad that marks the beginning of Jekyll’s descent into darkness, may be note perfect but remains emotionally flat. Since we don’t feel any fear for his decision, let alone any sympathy, it’s hard to care when it’s time for his meltdown.
Kelli Barclay’s choreography feels as if it were tacked on as an afterthought, since it too often consists of hopping and skipping, rather than carefully constructed combinations. Maneuvering singer/dancers around an arena space may be challenging, but this vocally talented ensemble seemed more focused on getting to their spot than articulating a visual moment or musical phrase.
Despite the title of the show, this production of “Jekyll & Hyde” belongs to Primack and DeGarmo. DeGarmo, who is also an “American Idol” finalist, has a memorable vocal quality that combines personality with power. She is the face to watch among this crowd.
JEKYLL & HYDE
Music by Frank Wildhorn, lyrics and book by Leslie Bricusse, based on “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” by Robert Louis Stevenson. Directed by Robert Cuccioli. At North Shore Music Theatre, Beverly, through Oct. 7. Tickets $34.50-$84. 978-232-7200, www.nsmt.org