BWW Reviews: Fort Bend Theatre's JEKYLL & HYDE Thrills and Chills
For Director and Choreographer Katie Harrison, JEKYLL & HYDE is a dream project to work on. Her enthusiasm and passion for the material shines through in her casting and staging for the production. With her at the reigns, we get to see the musical with fresh eyes. She deftly creates a thoroughly original production of the musical, especially in how she handles Emma in the finale. I also applaud Katie Harrison for avoiding recreating scenes from the 2001 DVD Recording of the Broadway production and for not even coming close to tipping her hat to the latest tour and 2013 Broadway revival. While most of these takes are refreshing, the mannequin turned marionette choreography during "Façade" is muddled and oversimplifies the thematic qualities of the lyrics.
Vocal Direction by Glenn Sharp is a strong asset for the production. Both Luther Chakurian as Jekyll and Hyde and Monica Lynn Passley as Emma are reprising roles that they sung and played to great success with Masquerade Theatre Company. With this fortitude backing the cast, Glenn Sharp has coached the rest of the cast to tap into their virtuosic performances and bring their best game forward when singing as well. In spite of lacking some of the vocal training and refinement of Luther Chakurian and Monica Lynn Passley, the rest of the cast sings the score well and allows the audience to get lost in Frank Wildhorn's lovely pop melodies.
Starring in the titular roles of Jekyll and Hyde, Luther Chakurian's impeccable performance is worth the price of admission alone. He crafts two believable and separate characters, altering his physicality and voice. Likewise, his renditions of "This is the Moment" and "Confrontation" are the absolute best I have ever had the pleasure of experiencing. Singing Jekyll as an opulent tenor and Hyde as a growling baritone, he brings distinctive and vigorous life to the dual roles.
Monica Lynn Passley's Emma Carew, Jekyll's fiancé, and Katie Harrison's Lucy Harris, Hyde's love interest, provide fantastic support to the lead in the production. Monica Lynn Passley infuses her character with tender affection, making the love she and Jekyll share tangible and realistic. Her shimmering soprano astounds on numbers like "His Work and Nothing More," "Once Upon a Dream," and "In His Eyes." Katie Harrison's character is respectably the prostitute with a heart of gold. She beguiles and enchants with numbers like "Bring on the Men" and breaks hearts with the touching "Someone Like You" and "Girls of the Night." At the performance I attended, Katie Harrison experienced some pitch problems though; for example, her rendition of "Someone Like You" sounded as though it really tested the limits of her upper register.
The versatile ensemble cast all carry their various roles well, especially as many of them switch from the wealthy elite to the poorest of London's toilers at the drop of a hat. Standouts are Sam Flash's ever-loyal John Utterson, Tara Wright's sympathetic Nellie, Curtis Barber's foppish Lord Savage, and the gossipy Lady Beaconsfield and Dame Agatha Proops played by Melissa Mayo and Rebecca Cansler.
At the performance I saw, sound was an occasional issue. The cast sings to pre-recorded music tracks, and there are times when the canned music is louder than the vocalists, especially during solo lines in large ensemble numbers like "Façade." I've always appreciated the tongue-in-cheek wit in the ensemble numbers' lyrics, so it's rather unfortunate when we lose those lines to canned music.
JEKYLL & HYDE, an atmospheric, Gothic thriller, is an ambitious project for a community theater to take on, but Fort Bend Theatre put this production into the right hands. Katie Harrison, her cast, and her crew thrill and chill as they overcome the restrictions of community theater to put on a production that conveys the story and music in a way that is sure to entertain audiences who venture out to see it.
JEKYLL & HYDE, produced by Fort Bend Theatre, plays the Fort Bend Theatre, 2815 North Main Street, Stafford, 77477, now through November 24, 2013. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m. and Sundays at 3:00 p.m. For tickets and more information, please visit http://fortbendtheatre.com or call (281) 208-3333.
Photos courtesy of Fort Bend Theatre.