Monday, October 8, 2018

Review of "Jekyll & Hyde"

The musical Jekyll and Hyde is usually staged as a large-scale, lavish production where bombast and over-the-top vocal performances and poignant ballads are the norm.  The show, now playing at the very intimate Music Theatre of Connecticut playhouse, deemphasizes the grandiloquence and focuses on the characters as they are swept up in the unholy research of Henry Jekyll.  For audience member familiar with, and who enjoy, the over-the-top Frank Wildhorn songs, rest assured.  They are still intact in all their blazing glory.

Set in 19th century London, the show loosely follows the Robert Louis Stevenson novella of a respected doctor, Henry Jekyll, looking to separate a person’s good side from their bad, thus creating a better world where evil is eradicated.  Using himself as the test subject for his unproven formula, Dr. Jekyll is intermittently transformed into the malevolent and violent Edward Hyde and back to his rational and lucid self.  In his new persona, he seeks revenge on those he feels shunned and mocked the experiments of his alter-ego, while also terrorizing the city’s populace.  In the end, all who come in contact with the well-meaning scientist—his fiancé, best friend, and the lady of the night he befriends—are irreparably harmed.

Leslie Bricusse’s adaptation of the iconic story plows forcefully, if somewhat repetitiously, towards the inevitable Act I transformation.  The second act speedily advances, coming at a somewhat rapid rate, as corpses pile high and the tragic and heartrending finale comes to its conclusion.

Andrew Foote gives a penetrating performance as Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde.  The actor, who has played the role numerous times, brings an intense passion to the character of Dr. Jekyll, but also imbues him with a brooding detachment.  As Edward Hyde he is a semi-controlled madman—cruel and vicious.  Elissa DeMaria’s Lucy Harris, a prostitute that befriends the good/bad doctor, is spirited and feisty, but also vulnerable.  She has a powerful voice that beautifully delivers the Frank Wildhorn/Leslie Bricusse songs.  The supporting cast, including Carissa Massaro as Emma, the love interest of Dr. Jekyll, is first-rate.  Their performances add a richness to the production.

The Frank Wildhorn/Leslie Bricusse score includes a number of dynamic, powerhouse songs that show off the vocal capability of the performers.  These include “Façade,” “This is the Moment,” “Someone Like You,” and “Dangerous Game.”  They vary from the overwrought to the emotionally intense.  In a musical like Jekyll and Hyde they are appropriate and affectingly rendered, helping to heighten the drama of the show and passion of the characters.  They are accompanied by a talented group of musicians under the direction of David Wolfson.

Director Kevin Connors skillfully guides the good-sized cast within the small performance space, utilizing the various entranceways and exits with precision.  He handles the murderous rages with a savvy restraint, while still effectively mining their chilling frightfulness.  Some of the scenes come across as overwrought but, thankfully, the director keeps them to a minimum.

Lighting Designer Michael Blagys has incorporated some straightforward lighting effects, which provide a simple remedy for unnecessary blood-letting and, working in conjunction with Director Connor, aids in Jekyll and Hyde’s back and forth transformation during the “Confrontation” sequence.

Jekyll and Hyde, a well-crafted production, at the Music Theatre of Connecticut through October 14th.

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