Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Play It Again: Jekyll and Hyde's "This Is the Moment"

 Play It Again:
Jekyll & Hyde's "This Is the Moment"

For this new series, Jeff has invited me to choose some classic Broadway show tunes and compare versions of these songs from several different cast recordings. Wherever possible, I’ll link to the songs on YouTube, where I listen to most of them myself.

This week I consider four versions of a contemporary classic, the stirring power ballad “This is the Moment” from
Frank Wildhorn, Steve Cuden and Leslie Bricusse’s Jekyll & Hyde. Sung by Dr. Jekyll as he prepares to conduct his fateful experiment, the song succeeds in conveying his intense excitement by virtue of Wildhorn’s trademark crescendo-driven music rather than the generic lyrics. (As discussed below, both of these were improved as Jekyll & Hyde was developed from concept album to Broadway show.)

My overall favorite version is marked with two stars (**); one star (*) is used to indicate that a particular version stands out in terms of singing, orchestra, sound, or other miscellaneous qualities. (For the first time, each of these stars goes to a different recording!)

- YouTube

Jekyll: Colm Wilkinson

*SINGING: This seems like the kind of song that Wilkinson was born to sing, with a steady build from sweet and soft vocals at the start to a classic powerhouse ending. Although I don’t exactly love some of his little eccentricities - like squeezing several vowels into the first syllable of “moment” - he definitely sets a passionate standard that others haven’t quite matched (even if he still sounds exactly like Jean Valjean). 

ORCHESTRA: The arrangement, for the most part, has the feel of an ’80s holdover. Its smooth-jazz-like piano and bass parts, combined with a steady drum beat and string section for support, would feel right at home on a Whitney Houston album. Only at the end, when some brass is added for the musical climax, does it truly feel like musical theater.

SOUND: The sound is good but not great; the balance between vocals and musical accompaniment is fine, but there isn’t much depth to the sound.

MISCELLANEOUS: As might be expected, the song is not quite in its final form on this concept album; the three subsequent versions have notable changes in their lyrics and music, all for the better. 

On the lyrics side, the clumsy phrase “momentous moment” is heard (only in this first version) immediately after the much more agile wordplay of “this is the time/when the momentum and the moment are in rhyme”; the lyricists definitely needed to choose one or the other, and they kept the right one. Another awkward couplet, “this is the hour/when I can open up tomorrow like a flower,” was likewise excised. And the words were just punched up a bit in a few other places; for instance, the third line here, “this is the moment when I know I’m on my way,” became the more precise “when I send all my doubts and demons on their way.”

On the musical side, this version lacks the bridge heard in the subsequent tracks (“for all these years/I’ve faced the world alone…”); instead it has another lyrical variation set to the melody of the chorus. This short bridge, though not particularly interesting on its own, is effective in breaking things up and setting the aural scene for the high-octane climax; without it, we hear the same music too many times in a row and it loses some of its impact.

“THE COMPLETE WORK” (1994) - YouTube

Jekyll: Anthony Warlow

SINGING: Warlow comes close to matching Wilkinson’s range and power, but in the end (literally and figuratively) falls just a bit short. Actually, Warlow is even more effective in the song’s more tender first verse, where he conveys an almost whispered urgency; it’s only in the final crescendo where Warlow doesn’t quite reach the same heights - but, let’s face facts, that’s the part that most of us care about.

ORCHESTRA: This is still a very easy-listening, pop-influenced arrangement, tinged with a heavily synthesized sound at the beginning of the song. As the song progresses, though, this version does incorporate a more active string section and more assertive brass to enhance the song’s signature build towards the money note.

*SOUND: Quite good, with a more immersive feel and subtle but satisfying stereo effects.

MISCELLANEOUS: The revisions noted above have all been implemented here, and after this there aren’t any major changes in the song’s music or lyrics. These improvements - as well as the much better sound and orchestrations - are the reason I picked this version overall, despite the fact that I slightly preferred Wilkinson’s vocal interpretation.

- YouTube

Jekyll: Robert Cuccioli

SINGING: Cuccioli gives a fine Broadway-level performance but is lacking in the kind of personality that can sell a rambling song like this one. Wilkinson, Warlow, and even (to a lesser extent) Maroulis have a distinctive vocal style that one can latch onto; Cuccioli’s competent, vibrato-heavy delivery would be a good fit for a traditional romantic lead but doesn’t quite work for this song.

*ORCHESTRA: The orchestration here is very ’90s Broadway, perhaps with a tinge of Disney mixed in, and I mean all that as a compliment. There are now lovely horn/woodwind touches to fill the gaps between sung phrases from the beginning, as well as dramatic transitions enunciated by tympani and low strings. The brassy climax is particularly exhilarating, accentuating the little dissonances between the final chord progression and the singer’s held note. 

SOUND: I’d say this sounds just about average for a Broadway cast album from the past few decades - well-balanced but not particularly crisp or sparkling.

MISCELLANEOUS: This version definitely feels, for the first time, like a song from a musical rather than a pop album - something that can drive a story forward through the sheer force of the music.

- YouTube

Jekyll: Constantine Maroulis

SINGING: Considering how disappointed I was when I saw the Broadway revival of this show, a production which starred Maroulis and grew out of this recording, I actually think he does a nice job here. He’s probably doing the most acting of any of the four singers, with little vocal touches to convey anguish and excitement. That being said, his voice is simply not in the same league with Wilkinson or Warlow.

ORCHESTRA: There’s a definite return to the piano-driven pop feel of the earliest versions, at least in the first half of the song, but this time it does have a more up-to-date feel. In the more orchestral second half, I enjoy the leaping horn part, as well as the churning strings accompanying the bridge.

SOUND: Pretty good, but the balance is tilted a little too much towards the vocals for my taste; some orchestral details are lost in the louder parts.

*MISCELLANEOUS: This version includes the longest and most interesting instrumental introduction, with majestic brass instruments intoning the song’s signature musical theme above shimmering strings.

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