BWW Reviews: JEKYLL & HYDE Displays Both Good And Evil At Spotlighters
If you're often delighted at the large casts Spotlighters and director Fuzz Roarke regularly parades across its carport-sized stage, you'll be delighted again. If you're a fan of the musical direction of Michael Tan and the soaring nuanced vocals he coaxes from these large casts, anticipate another treat. If you admire sparse sets that become multiple settings with a word and a lighting shift, you will find praiseworthy versatility and smooth transitions. If you like theatre in the round and practically in your lap, prepare to catch an actor or two.
Audrey Herman Spotlighters Theatre, celebrating its 53rd season, presents a musical adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson's classic precursor to science fiction. This is in and of itself a curiosity: operatic singing characters engaged in social discourse regarding custom, societal expectations, the nature of man, objective justice and transformation. JEKYLL & HYDE, written by Frank Wildhorn and Leslie Bricusse in 1990, seems to draw on the "literary musical" device of the '80s which gave the world Cats, Phantom and Les Mis.
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde, written by Robert Louis Stevenson in a feverish frenzy in 1885, is a mystery in the tradition of A. Conan Doyle, marked by wonderful writing devices and the voices of several distinct characters who by turns unfold the mystery in a non-chronological way. The final chapter gives readers their first first-hand look at Dr. Jekyll, and serves as the 'reveal.' None of this is present in the musical.
The show, which follows a linear timeline (unlike the novella), begins with a strong, noble, albeit manufactured, motivation for Dr. Jekyll's infamous experimentations, and features a theme of masquerade and hypocrisy. There are a great many liberties taken with the story, including the addition of love interest, a battle with The Establishment, issues of medical ethics, a brothel, multiple murders, a wedding and of course, songs. You'll probably enjoy the show better if you haven't read the book.
Fuzz Roarke's Director's Notes in the programme admit to the sparseness of the script- much of the show is song lyrics, with minimal spoken dialogue. What there is of each is not quite enough to create a strong narrative line, and there are several loose threads of plot point left untied by the end of the show. The lyrics themselves, unfortunately, are largely trite to the point of cliche, unrevealing of backstory, character development or action. The music, however, is lovely, and musical director Michael Tan makes the most of his 3 piece "orchestra" and layers the harmonies of the ensemble numbers beautifully.
In this show, which is almost entirely singing, it is well that the vocal performances are strong, especially the ensemble numbers and those done by the three main characters: Jekyll/Hyde, played by Ryan Wagner; Lucy, played by Renata Hammond; Emma Carew, played by Patricia Hengen. Their roles are extremely demanding, and each actor proves equal to the task. I spent much of the show wishing they had better lyrics to work with. Despite that, there are many enchanting moments. The Emma/Lucy duet is sweet and Ryan Wagner's duet with himself is remarkable. Brian Douglas as Lord Savage offers some comic villainy and a splendid moustache.
Among the large ensemble, I was particularly struck by vocalist Autumn Boyle's lovely high Soprano, and the charm, warmth and commitment Darlene Harris brings to her performance. Will Meister has a great theatre look- I suspect we will see him again. In a cast of this size, you might expect traffic jams or butt-bumping, but I saw neither. Fuzz Roarke knows his space and how to manage it. It is rather a marvel, like watching a box-truck parallel park.
Technically, the show works in the space, but the production values are uneven. There is a rolling set piece that I found thrillingly clever, and the backlit French doors are lovely. The wood-grain of the painted floorboards is flawless; wigs and costumes, less so. Allison Ramer's lighting design works excellently, and co-designer Justin Thillman operates it smoothly and seamlessly. The sound quality leaves something to be desired. There is a little bit of dancing. Do not go to see this show for the dancing.
Spotlighters is more or less always in need of something- currently, it's heating units- but the theatre's patrons seem to come through, as evidenced by the nice seats, newly installed in 2010. The lobby is hospitable and cozy and offers intermission refreshments. The restrooms are more than 'cozy' (claustrophobes, beware), but clean and pleasant. For theatre-goers with mobility issues, Spotlighters devotes an entire page to accessibility: http://www.spotlighters.org/acccessibility.html. Friday night's slithery weather possibly discouraged patronage- the house was about half full, but the show has sold out several times, so last-minute walk-ins may be disappointed. Allow extra time to park- unless you plan on using the paid lot on Charles and Read -there is street parking if you're early, patient or both. It's not easy, but it's not Fells Point, either. For pre-show comestibles, there are many nearby options; for post-show noshing, the Mount Vernon Stable offers its full menu until midnight.
The show runs roughly three hours, including a 15-minute intermission, and plays through the 8th of February, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 2 pm. For more information or tickets, call the box office at 410-752-1225, or visit http://www.spotlighters.org/
817 St. Paul Street