The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson is a classic Victorian gothic story that played into contemporary concerns about good and evil, science and religion, and the conundrum of man v God. Steve Cuden and Frank Wildhorn’s musical adaptation with book and lyrics by Leslie Bricusse maintains the story’s sordid details but with an added interest in society’s facade.
Dr Jekyll (Trent Gardiner) is attempting to distill human evil as a way to cure society of mental illness and violent crime. When experimenting on himself, he unleashes a hidden alter-ego named Edward Hyde (Joseph Raso) who begins a murderous rampage through the streets of London. At the same time, Dr Jekyll is attempting to protect his fiancé Emma (Olivia Oxley) and his friend Lucy (Samantha Wills) from the consequences of his mistake. This musical version focuses on these four characters as the central figures but also features a variety of London’s high society who represent the greed, hypocrisy, and ignorance that stand in the way of Dr Jekyll’s ambitions.
The set design and direction by Lochie Beh placed the action around the edges of the stage with little nooks to represent Dr Jekyll’s laboratory and Lucy’s rooms. The empty centre space was used to create the hubbub of London streets with the ensemble numbers. The choreography of these larger numbers struggled with the space available but this also served well to create a sense of claustrophobia and entrapment for Hyde’s deadly encounters with the Bishop (Belinda Korner), Lady Beaconsfield (Tisha Kelemen), and Lady Savage (Jindri De Silva), among others.
It’s an oddly paced musical with a long introduction establishing the circumstances and motivations of Dr Jekyll before he begins his experiment and then very little time spent on Hyde’s murders or the terror that spreads through London. That being said, the cast brought high energy and enthusiasm to each scene which kept the momentum going even in slower moments. In particular, Wills as the lovesick sex worker Lucy had an engaging narrative arc from saucy in her introductory number “Bring On the Men” to hopeful in her final ballad “A New Life”. This engagement was in no small part because of Wills’s exceptional vocal talent and her generous, believable portrayal of Lucy as a sympathetic dreamer. Gardiner as Jekyll was equally impressive in terms of his musical chops and commitment to the tormented soul of his character. Both Gardiner and Wills were a pleasure to watch perform.
Also worth mentioning were Isaac Downey as Dr Jekyll’s friend Utterson and Doug Rumble as future-father-in-law Sir Danvers Carew for their solid supporting performances that helped flesh out the surrounding social circumstances of Dr Jekyll’s experiments.
The message of Jekyll & Hyde: the Musical is the unknowable nature of other people and the secrets they hide behind their socially acceptable facades but the stand-out performances from this production demonstrated the strength of vulnerability and genuine commitment to the character as a whole, complicated person.
Jekyll & Hyde: the Musical is running at St Aidan’s from February 12th – 27th
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