Recently I was lucky enough to see a production of Jekyll and Hyde the musical. This particular version was neither fantastic nor terrible, and probably worth the ticket price. The acting was quite okay, the singing was a little rough in parts, but overall, as I mentioned, it was a fine enough evening at the theater and I left feeling like I had just had a nice experience. But, that’s not enough for me. I realize that not all theater has to be groundbreaking or evocative; it doesn’t all have to speak to the larger topics of our contemporary 21st century experience, or the perils of a society on the edge (although that would certainly be topical), but I was left wanting more from the experience. It wasn’t the performers that had left me unfulfilled, it wasn’t the musicians, it wasn’t the theater or acoustics, it was the narrative…or rather the lack of narrative.
Most of us have at least a passing idea of what the Jekyll and Hyde story entails and so I’d say that in some ways the writers of this particular adaptation where at an advantage. While I am sure that there are also great challenges to be considered when taking a piece that is so well-known and toying with it to appeal to a mass audience, I’d venture to say that the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. However, despite the (at times) moving music and the meticulous set design, I still believe a good story is central to the theater — or any other storytelling medium for that matter. What I dislike is that we seem to be living through a period of human history whereby narrative is dissected into easy-to- digest emotive-points, and in the case of this musical, strung together with catchy songs which do little to push the story along.
It’s not just the theater though as film, journalism, fiction (and sometimes even non-fiction), and even visual art, it seems, have all fallen prey to the glitz of the fast buck. I realize that all movies can’t be elaborate biopics that are heavied down by extensive costuming and set costs, but I just need a bit more than three plot points to keep me intrigued. I like a novella as much as anyone else, maybe even more, but who doesn’t like to sink their teeth into a thick novel rich with pages of description and character development? I guess the answer to that is, unfortunately, most people. It’s tough trying to appeal to a broad audience and I take my hat off to the Broadway theaters and stages across the world that do it so very well for eight shows a week, but it’s just not doing it for me anymore.
Just to be perfectly clear, I am certainly not advocating dilatory art the likes of Wagnerian opera or anything because, while those relics are overly long and drawn out hours beyond what is necessary, they too lack much real narrative. They were, frankly, the musicals of their time…they’ve just hung around for quite a while. I’m looking for a piece of narrative that doesn’t have to rely on sentimentality or sociologically programmed tropes in order to touch the audience where it counts. I know those pieces exist. I know that there are storytellers of all ages out there right now writing those stories, but there is so little mainstream appeal for them, that they are likely to never actually make it to any public forum besides a university course on narrative.
If I’m beginning to sound like a malcontent…it’s because in this particular aspect, I am! I rarely see theater that rouses me, that questions me, interrogates my deeply held convictions. Seldom, does a piece of contemporary film move me outside of the perspective of an average cinema going viewer. Books though, they are my last refuge, a place where narrative is held as paramount and victorious…but even here there are countless examples we all know of that shouldn’t exist, or that are only published because they are attached to a name people might recognize, which in turn might compel the public to buy a book. I get it, it’s business. Theaters need to sell tickets, bookkeepers need to sell books, etc. I just wonder when we’re going to get the whole story, that’s all. I know it’s not easy balancing the Dr. Jekyll’s intellect with Hyde’s need for visceral thrills, but couldn’t we at least try a bit harder?