Thursday, November 18, 2010

Jekyll & Hyde: The Musical presented by Pasadena Theatre Company and Abundant Life Church

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, a novella by Robert Louis Stevenson, has travelled through many, many adaptations.    It almost immediately was adapted for the stage following its publication in 1886.    One of the more popular adaptations has been Jekyll & Hyde: The Musical conceived for the stage by  Steve Cuden and Frank Wildhorn, book and lyrics by Leslie Bricusse and music by Frank Wildhorn.

The piece took a long journey to get to the stage and made its first appearance like many "rock operas" of the 1970's and 1980's as a concept album in 1990 with Colm Wilkerson of Les Miserables fame in the title dual role.    Over the years more than sixty songs have been written for the musical and the version licensed for performance today, while maintaining the basic storyline of the Broadway version does not contain the same order or even some of the same songs.  

The score of Jekyll & Hyde: The Musical does contain some beautiful music and some ballads that became well known in popular music.     Yet, the book of the musical, which has invented several characters and scenarios, suffers from creating archetypes and, beyond the title roles, little in the way of three-dimensional characters.

The basic story remains as Stevenson created it.   Dr. Henry Jekyll, a mild-mannered physician wishes to find away to eliminate the baser "evil" side of mankind's personality.     In the musical he is doing so in an attempt to cure his mentally ill father.    When he cannot get backing from the Board of Governors at St. Jude's Hospital he decides to perform his experiments on himself.   Meanwhile he is engaged to the saintly Emma Carew, yet when taken to the Red Rat Pub by his close friend John Utterson, he becomes intrigued by the featured performer and "lady of the night, " Lucy.      Partaking of his chemical formula Jekyll is transformed into his baser alter ego, Edward Hyde.      Tormented by his inability to control his transformations, Jekyll descends into the depths of depravity eventually being drawn into a revengeful murder campaign against those who denied approval for his experiments.     Eventually this leads to a tragic end.

The majority of the plot is invented by the authors.   There are no love interests in the original material and no murderous rampage.   Many are surprised to find out that in the original novella, Mr. Hyde only kills one person, who dies of fright after seeing the transformation occur.   Yet, the plot of the musical does provide a melodramatic pulse to the material.   It is a shame that the text does not allow the majority of the characters to grow beyond their one-dimensional stereotypes - Emma the saintly fiancee, Lucy the hooker with the heart of gold, the Bishop of Basingstoke the hypocritical sexual deviant man of the cloth.    Yet, despite these limitations the musical has proven a popular vehicle having played on Broadway for four years and in numerous professional and amateur productions since.

The Pasadena Theatre Company in collaboration with Abundant Life Church has made a game effort in their current production.    The cast and crew face a number of challenges not the least of which is performing in a cavernous church auditorium that does not provide a curtain to mask scene changes.   One wishes that the director, Christy Stouffer, had embraced the challenge and used better transitions between scenes than having the characters come on and off stage in the dark.   It was a missed opportunity to create better flow on the stage.    Similarly the choreographic team of Becki Placella, Anwar Thomas and Andrew Hinds have created some interesting choreography, but fall into the trap of over choreographing the ensemble numbers.    The Thespian is still puzzled as to why singing about murder drew the idea to have the chorus dancing with umbrellas as if in a macabre version of a Busby Berkley spectacle.  

More successful is the scenic design of Walt Morris and Tom Rendulic who have created a marvelous two tiered set into which various set pieces are seamlessly brought on and off stage as needed.   In particular their transition from Dr. Jekyll's study to his laboratory is quite ingenious.   Working with limited materials, lighting designer Tim Grieb, assisted by Bart Raeke, has managed to create a sense of foreboding or fleeting hope with the few lights at their disposal.

The costumes by Tori Walker and Kristina Green are beautiful.  In some cases, they are too beautiful, as Lucy and the Ladies of the Night seem a bit too clean and bright for characters representing the dark underbelly of London society.

Geoff Thompson's fight choreography is well designed and very effective creating several gasps from the audience at the brutality of some of the murders.

The ensemble performers are very enthusiastic, but musical director, Doug Dawson should have worked on crisper diction as the acoustics for those performers not being miked make it difficult to understand the lyrics at times.   Most of the music is recorded, and the Thespian was again puzzled by the decision to add three live musicians as it seemed intrusive.

The main roles are well performed.   Tom Rendulic as Emma's father, Sir Danvers Carew, E. Lee Nicol as John Utterson and Timoth David Copney as Simon Stride have excellent voices and provide good support in their small, but pivotal roles.    Barbara Hartsell, as Dr. Jekyll's fiancee, Emma Carew, has a clear and commanding soprano voice.   She has good stage presence in a role that does not call for her to be more than the supportive love interest.   Michele Guyton as Lucy had some technical difficulties with her microphone at the performance the Thespian attended, but she has a strong soprano belt and the character's strengths and vulnerabilities grew throughout her performance.   One wishes that she would project more of her dual attraction and repulsion/fear of Edward Hyde particularly in act one as that would create more of a dramatic impact helping  the audience invest in her fate.

The dual role of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is a dramatic tour-de-force when in the correct actor's hands.   It was an award winning revelation for the original Broadway portrayer, Robert Cuccioli, and a maddening embarrassment for his final replacement, David Hasselhoff, who is unfortunately immortalized on video.    One cannot, however, sing the praises enough of John Scheeler's performance. Not only does he have a vibrant voice, he uses both his acting and his singing to clearly delinate the two distinct personalities required for the role.   The extremely difficult Confrontation duet between Jekyll and Hyde is a complete engrossing revelation.     The Thespian looks forward to seeing what Mr. Scheeler choses as his next project as it will be worth seeking out.

Jekyll & Hyde: The Musical will be performed at Abundant Life Church in Glen Burnie, MD through November 21, 2010.   For tickets and additional performance information please visit

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