BWW Reviews: JEKYLL AND HYDE is Devilishly Fun
JEKYLL AND HYDE, produced by Jonathan Pennington Studios, plays the Cameo Theatre at 1123 E. Commerce St, San Antonio, 78205, now thru September 29th. Performances are Fridays at 8pm and Sundays at 4pm. Tickets are $15-$33. For tickets and information, please visit www.cameocenter.com
It must be Halloween season again. Haunted houses are springing up everywhere, costume shops are hijacking vacant storefronts, and Jekyll and Hyde is scaring up cheers and applause at San Antonio's Cameo Theatre. The production and its three leads easily overcome any missteps of the material.
The musical, with book and lyrics by Leslie Bricusse and music by Frank Wildhorn, has as dubious and duplicitous a reputation as its notorious title characters. While the original 1997 Broadway production received a long run of over 1,500 performances, it lost $1.5 million and received mostly negative reviews. Moreover, the creative team has continued to write and re-write the show for decades and still have not come up with a definitive version. Despite the problems of the material-particularly it's tuneful but schizophrenic score and its melodramatic tendencies-the show has become a cult classic and a guilty pleasure musical.
Director Jonathan Pennington makes no attempt to mask the campy, melodramatic tone of the piece, and that seems to be the appropriate choice. The more outlandish and sensational the show gets, the more enjoyable it becomes. After all, the story of a respectable scientist and his questionable experiments gone wrong is difficult to ground in reality. Pennington's design team also creates a surrealistic but decidedly Victorian look. The costumes by Amy Kelleher are well-executed Victorian-era outfits, and the unit set by Pennington utilizes illustrations, sketches, and text from the original publication of the gothic era novella splashed across large wooden panels. The dim lighting by James Estes gives the entire show an eerie, sinister look, though I question the need for the show logo to be illuminated on the stage throughout the show.
As Doctor Jekyll and his nemesis/alter-ego, Mister Hyde, Roy Bumgarner gives a fantastic and thrilling performance. The tall, handsome Bumgarner is perfect for the role, and his strong Baritone voice is electrifying. Several of his numbers earn rapturous applause, and his take on the show's most well-known song, "This is the Moment," earned a well-deserved standing ovation at the performance I attended. While there is a clear difference between Jekyll and Hyde (Jekyll is played as a headstrong, stubborn, but somehow optimistic scientist and Hyde is played as a violent, animalistic monster), Bumgarner smartly clues us into the similarities between the two, namely their disdain of upper-class hypocrites.
Carrie Carpenter is incredible as Emma, Jekyll's prim and proper but occasionally spunky fiancée. Carpenter has a gorgeous and powerful soprano voice, and her Emma is incredibly wholesome and loyal but unafraid to speak her mind. Though Emma may be the virginal ingénue, she's not afraid to take matters into her own hands when the men in her life stand in her way or, in Jekyll's case, shut her out. Corina Zars also gives an extraordinary performance as Lucy, the whore who becomes the object of Hyde's affection and obsession. Her voice is remarkably powerful and every one of her numbers is a showstopper. While other actresses play Lucy as a tough, street smart kind of gal, Zars plays her more as a lovelorn hopeless romantic who's doomed by her status in life. The decision makes it far easier to buy her character's ballads "Someone Like You" and "A New Life." Thankfully though, Zars doesn't allow Lucy to be a romantic all of the time; her first number "Bring On the Men" is deliciously dirty and sexy due to her purring voice and some sassy choreography by Danielle Martinez.
This production truly soars due to these three performers, and for the most part, director Jonathan Pennington knows they are the key to the show's success. His staging is at its best when he puts his three leads in the spotlight with nothing to distract the audience from their incredible performances. On a few small but noticeable occasions, though, he diverts attention from them by adding his ensemble to the mix. A disturbing sex scene between Hyde and Lucy, for example, is made all the more disturbing by the presence of an onlooking company. As strong as the ensemble is, especially in the vocal department, this is by and large a three character show (or four when you count Hyde).