Jekyll & Hyde, music by Frank Wildhorn, Book and Lyrics by Leslie Bricusse. Directed by John Saunders.
Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman
Alison Drew and James Benjamin Rodgers; photo: Jesse DeGroodt
Rodgers and Kevin Kelly; photo: Jesse DeGroodt
"The danger’s now all crystal clear."
The musical "Jekyll and Hyde" took nearly nine years to write and rewrite before it became a hit on Broadway. "Showboat" took its authors seven months and "Carousel" was on the creative block for about a year. The question, always, is "was it worth the time?" In the case of the current production of this sci-fi/horror musical I have always felt that the score is very good, the story unbeatable and the end-result of the combination questionable. It is a show that, unlike the other two mentioned above, requires a company of players who can truly grab hold of it and force it into being, as Edward Hyde is forced into being. This new production at the Mac-Haydn Theatre in Chatham, NY is less successful.
For anyone who doesn’t know the story, Dr. Henry Jekyll believes that every human being is made up of personalities both good and evil and that it should be possible to separate and identify these personalities. He manages to do so by experimenting, against all warnings and precautions by the medical community, on himself. The resultant split personality wreaks havoc on London and the inevitable conclusion is, well, inevitable.
Musically this company tackles the score by Frank Wildhorn and Leslie Bricusse with gusto and style. The chorus players in particular get into the threatening narratives of "Facade" and "Murder, Murder" with an admirable intensity. As denizens of the lower depths of London they almost succeed in being creepy and untouchable.
Alison Drew as Emma Carew, the young society woman engaged to Henry Jekyll, does beautifully in her role and her songs. She is particularly moving in her duet with the East End soubrette Lucy, "In His Eyes" and the solo that precedes it, "Once Upon a Dream" as she confronts the realities of her beloved’s new life that have taken him from her.
The Lucy of Carman Napier is good, but not as good. Her voice tended to drift off-pitch more than once and though she is a gutsy and vibrant performer this tendency in one so young is not a good thing. She did build a solid, recognizable character, but with a show so through-sung it is regrettable that her tone was not solid enough to carry her along without these key shifts.
Kevin Kelly was a fine John Utterson, best friend to the Doctor. His narrative moments and his plotted one alike were well played. Lauren French made a despicable Lady Beaconsfield reek of snobbishness. Scott Wasserman was almost funny as Simon Stride. Joshua Phan-Gruber could have taken Spider one step lower on the web’s rung for my tastes.
As Sir Danvers Carew, Emma’s father, Franco Spoto was weaker than anticipated. Vocally not as secure and strong as the music requires he was also a bit shallow in the role, never as protective of his daughter as he might have been, nor as critical of Jekyll as the story requires.
However no one was as disappointing as the actor who played both the title roles. James Benjamin Rodgers, winner of the Joy in Singing and Lotte Lenya competitions, held so much promise. His voice is lovely, a lyrical tenor that was fine to listen to in songs like "Lost in the Darkness" and "Take Me As I Am" but without the interpretive skills to chill our blood with "This is the Moment" and "Alive." He had the pleasant looks of a Jekyll but never the anguished, tormented physiognomy of Hyde. He never in face, voice or movement was a threatening soul. The incredible duet between his two selves truly required Andrew Gmoser’s lighting to identify between the two halves of his nature as his singing was unable to make the distinctions clear. It may well be that he is just not ready to take on such a role. Or it may be that he is limited by his vocal production and a technique that is clean, sweet and just to careful. Hyde’s voice might be one of those things that threatens the career of a young singer. I credit him with caring for his future, but I am sorry that this concern might have ruined his chances in this special role.
John Saunders commands the stage with his ensemble but loses the race with his principals. He has done a nice job of staging a difficult work, but he falls short on the social identities of his chorus people, this in spite of fine costumes by Dale DiBernardo. Gmoser’s set and lights work well, but I found his fire effects sorely wanting, although others in different sections of the theater seemed to be quite enamored of it.
This difficult musical may not be the dynamic draw of the company’s previous show, "The King and I" but it still has rewards to the musical fan. The rewards are small, but with singer-actors like Alison Drew and Kevin Kelly they are worth pursuing.
Jekyll & Hyde plays at the Mac-Haydn Theater on Route 203 north of Chatham, NY through July 17. For information and tickets call the box office at 518-392-9292.