​Filichia Features: Donald J. Simon, the JEKYLL & HYDE Expert

by Peter Filichia on April 19, 2013

in Filichia Features,Jekyll & Hyde

Is anyone on the Northeast Corridor planning to present JEKYLL & HYDE?  If so, don't hesitate to contact Donald J. Simon.  The president of the International JEKYLL & HYDE Fan Club will automatically take an interest in your upcoming production.

“I’ll go anywhere on the east coast to see JEKYLL & HYDE,” says the Allentown, Pennsylvania resident. “It can be professional, amateur, Equity, non-Equity, college, community or high school. I even went to see a production in an area where people were told to stay inside because there was a sniper raging around the neighborhood. I went anyway, and was never sorry I did, for it was a pretty good production.”

Ask Simon to come to your neck of the woods, and you may soon see his car with the “Jekkie” license plate approaching your theater. Simon, however, will do more than simply sit and applaud each number and stand at the curtain calls. Should a director want Simon’s feedback, the president will happily provide it.

And given that Simon has seen the Frank Wildhorn-Leslie Bricusse-Steve Cuden musical many more than 200 times in over 150 different stagings, many directors have indeed invited him to their rehearsals just to see what he thinks. Others have even had him attend auditions. Afterward, he’s gladly given his opinions and dispensed advice based on his extensive knowledge.

“When I saw my local high school go through its JEKYLL & HYDE rehearsals, I thought that the girl playing Lucy was imitating Linda Eder too much,” says Simon of the actress who originated the show’s female lead. “I said as much to the director, who later showed the girl my notes. The next time I came in, the girl had made the part her own. I predicted that she and everyone else would do very well in the upcoming Freddie Awards, and they pretty much swept them. I was overwhelmed when they wound up thanking me from the stage.”

And then there was the time when MunOpCo Music Theatre in Allentown sought Simon’s counsel. “What wound up happening, however, was that someone who’d already been cast and rehearsed couldn’t do the show,” says Simon. Needless to say, because he knew the words to the script and score, Simon suddenly found himself on stage singing “Façade” and “Murder, Murder.” As he says, “After all those times of being in the audience and looking at the stage where JEKYLL & HYDE was playing, I really felt strange being on stage and looking at a JEKYLL & HYDE audience.”

As we all know from our trips to so-called amateur theater, we can be blown away by non-professionals. “I can honestly state,” says Simon, “that Connor Bruley at Wissahickon High School in Ambler, Pennsylvania was one of the best Jekyll and Hydes that I have ever seen.” (And Lord knows the man has a good deal of basis for comparison.)

Simon’s journey with JEKYLL & HYDE began innocuously enough. He was at home one night in 1989 watching TV when he saw and heard Liza Minnelli sing “A New Life.” He wondered about the song, and later queried his brother, who owns a record store. That’s when Simon learned that a recent concept album had been made, with Colm Wilkinson as both Jekyll and Hyde and Linda Eder as Lucy, the prostitute who gets to know his second self and will have second thoughts about it.

If there’s any doubt that Simon was manifestly destined to be president of the JEKYLL & HYDE Fan Club, it’s certainly dispelled by this story. One day in December, 1995, he and his wife Sandy decided to enjoy a day at Hershey Park. Once they arrived there, they found that JEKYLL & HYDE was playing. “I bought tickets right away,” he says.

And certainly not for the last time. Soon Simon discovered through this new-fangled medium called the Internet that Philip Hoffman, who played the role of Jekyll’s lawyer Utterson, was informing fans of the show’s every move. Hershey, as it turned out, was merely the 16th stop on a 30-city cross-country pre-Broadway tryout. Ten weeks later, the Simons were in Wilmington, Delaware to see the 25th stop of the tour.

By then, plenty of like-minded fans were showing up repeatedly. Cast members became accustomed to seeing them at the stage door. The movement took off so much that a Newsweek writer reported that just as Star Trek had Trekkies, JEKYLL & HYDE had Jekkies who would go here, there and everywhere to see their beloved musical. Certainly more than 100 were in attendance when the show played its first New York preview at the Plymouth Theatre on March 21, 1997.

And while Simon only wound up seeing less than 5% of JEKYLL & HYDE’s Broadway run, we must remember that the show played 45 previews and 1,543 official performances. Translation: Simon was in the audience for no fewer than 75 performances. When the show slated its European premiere in Bremen, Germany in 1999, Simon was there, too. “That production really had Henry beat Lucy,” he says, with regret permeating his voice. (He doesn’t recommend this approach in your production.)

Simon has heard the repeated comments of “Get a life!” and other such sentiments from those who think that seeing JEKYLL & HYDE once is (more than) enough. “I can think of plenty of worse things people do with their money,” he says with a sneer. Truth to tell, however, Simon did frown on one Jekkie who sold her blood to finance trips to see the show in New York. “That is going too far,” he concedes. He has yet to open a vein to see any performance.

Once JEKYLL & HYDE played its final Broadway performance on Jan. 7, 2001, some Jekkies did lose interest. But others including Simon kept the memories alive by seeing performers who’d starred in the Broadway production in their new shows. For example, at the opening night of Lend Me a Tenor at the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn, New Jersey last month, Debbie Schwartz led a party of four to see John Treacy Egan perform. Keep in mind that in JEKYLL & HYDE, Egan only played a clerk and a groom. No matter; any connection with that original production is enough to get Jekkies in the audience and at the stage door to tell the performers how well they did.

Actually, Simon and most every other Jekkie wishes that Debbie Schwartz could have led a party of five to the Paper Mill. Alas, her husband Richie, the first co-president of the JEKYLL & HYDE Fan Club, had died last April 20. “So this April 20,” says Simon, “we’re all meeting in New York to show the cast our support, yes, but also to remember Richie, whom we loved. It still pains me to remember that he was the one to call me and say ‘They’ve cast Constantine Maroulis as Jekyll and Hyde in the upcoming revival,’ and that he wasn’t ever able to see it. We all thought about him when the tour opened in La Mirada, California, and have kept him in our hearts ever since.”

And what can we expect from the new production now at Broadway’s Marquis Theatre? “I truly believe that this is the production that Frank Wildhorn always wanted,” Simon says. “Remember, he always saw David Bowie as his star, so he obviously had a rock sound more in mind. Some people have said that the show is now ‘JEKYLL & HYDE on acid.’ As someone who’s seen it three times from the front row, I know what they mean. The special effects are pretty special, too.”

He pauses to smile. “But when you come right down to it, it’s still Frank Wildhorn’s music that makes it extra-special. That’s what keeps me coming back, and that’s why I’m glad to help anyone who wants to do the show.”

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