Sebastian Bach was on his best behavior. Not only did the former lead singer for the 1990s heavy metal band Skid Row arrive on time for his New York City stage debut in Jekyll & Hyde, he even concealed the Youth Gone Wild tattoo, located on his right forearm, with makeup. But as the show came to its close, and a female fan tossed a rose at his feet, Bach’s rock instincts took over. He put the flower in his mouth, chewed off the stem and spat the petals over the people in the front row. “The crowd dug it,” he crows.
Bach, who has since turned bud-biting into what he calls “a Bach-on-Broadway tradition,” took over the musical’s lead role last month from Melrose Place’s Jack Wagner. For the next three months the lean 6’4″, long-haired blond—who once got three years’ probation for hitting a fan with a bottle at a concert—will belt out 14 show tunes a day, six days a week. “I’ve never sung as much in my whole life,” he says. “I love it.”
Granted, portraying literature’s most famous split personality in front of a blue-hair-and-blazer crowd is an abrupt shift for Bach. But the 32-year-old says it suits him: “The harder I kill [as Mr. Hyde], the more they give me a standing ovation.” His big challenges now are keeping his lines slang-free (“I can’t let a ‘dude’ or ‘awesome’ slip in”) and staying still while playing the reserved Dr. Jekyll. “I just want to do a stage dive,” he said. “But I don’t want to knock Grandma’s teeth out.”
That rock cockiness is what led composer Frank Wildhorn to cast Bach. “I always wanted a rock star,” says Wildhorn, who transposed some songs an octave higher for Bach’s booming tenor. “Sebastian has a sexy, visceral energy as Hyde.” So far Bach’s shows are near sellouts, attracting hard-core rock fans as well as suburbanites.
Early on Bach put his pipes to use in the chorus at the private Lakefield College School in Peterborough, Ont. (Prince Andrew is also an alum.) But rock replaced requiems soon after Bach sang a rousing version of “Roxanne” at a school dance. “All the chicks were in line for me,” he says. At age 15, the straight-A student quit school, said goodbye to his divorced artist parents, David and Kathleen Bierk, younger brother Zac (a Minnesota Wild goalie) and sister Heather (an actress) and joined a Toronto band. “My parents were horrified,” he says, “but they also respected me.” By 17, he had renamed himself after Johann Sebastian Bach (“Bierk rhymed with jerk,” he explains) and was living out a rock and roll dream. “I lived with girls—you know, hookers,” he says. But then he met Maria Aguiar, a 21-year-old model. “She was the most beautiful girl I ever saw,” he says. “She kind of made me grow up.”
Though the couple struggled financially, Maria, now 36, refused to let Bach take a day job. “I wanted the whole world to see his talent,” she says. After years of singing with smaller bands, he joined Skid Row in 1988, and his career took off. Their self-titled first album, released the next year, sold 5 million copies. The follow-up, 199l’s Slave to the Grind, debuted at No. 1 on the charts, landing a seductive, shirtless Bach on the cover of Rolling Stone. That old devil, “creative differences,” led to his exit from the band in ’96. Bach went solo, releasing his first album, Bring ‘Em Bach Alive, in 1999.
These days, between Jekyll shows, Bach relaxes with his family (he and Maria wed in 1993 and have two sons, Paris, 12, and London, 6) at their kitsch-filled four-bedroom home in Lincroft, N.J. It’s too early to say if the rock star will become a Broadway mainstay. “If anyone called and said, ‘Dude, come be in Footloose,’ I couldn’t do it,” he says. “But jekyll & Hyde is me.” Except for the love scenes. “My wife asks, ‘What are you thinking when you’re making out with that girl onstage?’ ” says Bach. “I told her, ‘I’m thinking it’s 100 degrees, I’m wearing three winter jackets, and I’m wondering if my sweat is going to drip down her nostrils and choke her to death.’ ”
Ah, the romance of the theater.
Olivia Abel in New York City