From Page to Stage: the Transformation of Jekyll & Hyde from Novel to Musical

Original Broadway Cast Recording album artwork

Original Broadway Cast Recording album artwork

Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is no exception to the phenomenon of myriad novels-turned-musicals that have captured audiences on Broadway and around the globe. With a rich history of page-to-stage musicals, among which are Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame [seen on stage in Germany as Der Glöckner von Notre Dame] and Les Misérables, and Gaston Leroux’s Le Fantôme de l’Opéra, brought to the Broadway stage as The Phantom of the Opera, Jekyll & Hyde found a fitting home for itself in its musical adaptation. Imagined by Frank Wildhorn, whose later works include an adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Victorian novel Dracula as Dracula: the Musical, Jekyll & Hyde ran for over 1500 performances on Broadway beginning in March of 1997, and has gathered a cult following through its many tours, concerts, and regional and international productions.

Stevenson’s novel functions well on its own in its original form, but several notable reworked adaptations have found their way into popular culture, many of which include female characters and love interests for Jekyll, as the novel is primarily void of a female presence. The addition of females in the story gives a stronger, more interesting, and frankly, more relatable meaning to an otherwise male-driven tale.

One of the novel’s most lacking aspects is the presence of females in its leading characters. The only females the reader sees in Stevenson’s novel are passive side notes; the only encounters with women that we have are with the young girl who is trampled by Hyde; the maid who faints upon witnessing Sir Carew’s murder: “And next moment, with ape-like fury, he was trampling his victim under foot and hailing down a storm of blows, under which the bones were audibly shattered and the body jumped upon the roadway. At the horror of these sights and sounds, the maid fainted” (Stevenson 29); and the female servant whose crying Poole scolds for fear of being heard by Hyde: “Blank silence followed, no one protesting; only the maid lifted her voice and now wept loudly. “Hold your tongue!” Poole said to her, with a ferocity of accent that testified to his own jangled nerves; and indeed, when the girl had so suddenly raised the note of her lamentation, they had all started and turned towards the inner door with faces of dreadful expectation” (Stevenson 49). All three of these females are seen as weak, passive, disruptive in the case of the servant, and requiring help from men. Aside from those three brief characters, there are very few references to women or femininity.

Though a lack of female characters is fitting for the novel’s setting, a musical without a leading lady would leave much to be desired, and Wildhorn wisely gives Jekyll a fiancée, Emma, and adds a prostitute named Lucy, with whom Jekyll [and later, Hyde] becomes infatuated with. The musical also includes a female manager of the brothel where Lucy works, and Lady Beaconsfield, the only woman on the Board of Governors who reject Jekyll’s proposal to separate man’s good from evil. It is worth noting that not only is there now a heavy feminine presence in the musical, but Lucy’s introductory song to Jekyll, “Good ’n Evil,” is what helps inspire him to use himself as the subject of his experiments, and Jekyll asks Lucy to visit him in the future, conveniently setting up relationships between not only Jekyll and his fiancée, but also between Jekyll and Lucy, and soon between Hyde and Lucy. Lucy sings that she would rather be evil, because evil always wins:

The battle between good and evil
Goes back to the start,
Adam and Eve and the apple tore Eden apart!
The key thing about good ‘n’ evil
Each man has to choose!
Heaven ‘n’ hell
Is a helluva gamble to lose!
But as I peruse
This world we abuse
It’s hell that we choose
And heaven must lose!

Evil is everywhere
Good doesn’t have a prayer!
Good is commendable
Evil’s dependable!
Evil is viable
Good’s unreliable!
Good may be thankable!
Evil is bankable!

Evil’s for me – you can have good!
Doesn’t suit me to be Robin Hood!
S’easier by far, from the way that things are,
To remain good ‘n’ evil
Than try to be evil and good!

These lyrics interestingly and successfully sum up the musical’s main themes, and serve as an introduction for Dr. Jekyll’s transformations, and without the character of Lucy, we as an audience wouldn’t have such a well-formed inspiration for Jekyll to choose himself as his own subject to experiment upon.

Later in the musical, Hyde kills Lucy, and before the close of the musical, Jekyll kills himself and we are left with Emma weeping over him as he dies, singing that he is “free now,” a much different ending than the novel’s, which closes with, “Will Hyde die upon the scaffold? or will he find courage to release himself at the last moment? God knows; I am careless; this is my true hour of death, and what is to follow concerns another than myself. Here then, as I lay down the pen and proceed to seal up my confession, I bring the life of that unhappy Henry Jekyll to an end” (Stevenson 94).

Although the novel’s absence of women works in its favor, creating a space where women are weak and passive, the musical version gives women power, interest, and some of the most show-stopping songs, with Lucy and Emma’s duet “In His Eyes” and Lucy’s “Good ’n Evil.” Very few novels would work perfectly translated directly for the stage, and Frank Wildhorn’s interpretation of Jekyll & Hyde is a good example of some of the positive changes that can be made to a piece of work to make it more relatable to a broad audience.

[The Broadway musical starring David Hasselhoff as the title characters can be watched on YouTube here.]

Excerpt From: Robert Louis Stevenson. “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.” iBooks.