BWW Reviews: Broadway at the Beach - Bart Shatto in JEKYLL & HYDE
Last summer Beach Haven's Surflight Theatre came back from superstorm Sandy with a superb production of "Les Miserables" starring Broadway's Bart Shatto as Jean Valjean. This summer, Broadway's got "Les Mis," but luckily the beach still has Bart. Shatto currently stars as not one, but two 19th century protagonists, "Jekyll & Hyde," in Frank Wildhorn's 1997 musical sensation. It's almost as if he were playing Valjean and Javert. If such a thing were possible, Shatto would be the man to do it.
The actor is no stranger to Wildhorn musicals, having appeared on Broadway in both "The Civil War" and "Dracula." In "Jekyll & Hyde" he portrays both title characters: Dr. Henry Jekyll, a man driven to discover the secrets of the human psyche, and Edward Hyde, his vengeful alter ego. Jekyll is engaged to prim and proper Emma Carew (Whitney Winfield), while Hyde beds lewd and lusty Lucy Harris (Lianne Marie Dobbs). Good versus evil - the duality of man - is the subject of this popular musical adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson's 1886 novella.
The inner struggles of Jekyll and Hyde provide Shatto with a superb showcase for his impressive musical and dramatic range. He seems to have a unique ability to straddle the line between leading man and character actor, a skill that proved enormously valuable as Valjean but comes in even handier as "Jekyll & Hyde." With a turn of his head and the toss of his hair, Shatto goes from fear-torn Dr. Jekyll to bestial Mr. Hyde in the show's tour de force eleven o'clock number "Confrontation." Wildhorn musicals are famous for their stand-alone power ballads and Shatto memorably makes his mark on the show's break-out hit, "This is the Moment." He's also at home with the play's more introspective moments, such as "Reflections," a song previously cut from the score but here re-instated with the author's blessing. It's a slight piece, musically, but Shatto seizes the opportunity to revel in Dr. Jekyll's few moments of lucidity before the plot spins irrevocably out of control.
It's hard to imagine anyone giving Shatto a run for his musical theatre money, but as Lucy Harris, Lianne Marie Dobbs does just that. Her torchy "Someone Like You" provides a poignant glimpse of the inner hopes and dreams of this hooker with a heart. Dobbs' vocals are superbly nuanced, making her doomed path all the more heartbreaking. Like Shatto, she's no stranger to Wildhorn, having previously played the same role under the direction of the show's original star, New Jersey favorite Bob Cucciolli. When Shatto and Dobbs join forces in the soaring duet "Dangerous Game," the results are nothing short of thrilling.
The two stars are capably backed by a production staged by Norb Joerder. Despite its size, the small ensemble creates a variety of vividly wrought characters featuring tight, distinct harmonies. The show's production design rightfully dwells on the color red - setting the action on an elevated playing space painted blood red. Benjamin Weill's lighting sometimes forgets that this is the gaslight era, but more than makes up for it when skillfully utilizing footlights and cross lighting to cast eerie shadows - some extending onto the auditorium walls.
Surflight continues their 65th Anniversary Season by marking the 50th anniversary of the landmark musical "Fiddler on the Roof," which plays June 9th through 27th. The rest of the summer features productions of "Monty Python's Spamalot," and "A Chorus Line." "Jekyll & Hyde" plays through July 6th. For tickets or information, visit www.surflight.org or call (609) 492-9477.