BWW Review: JEKYLL & HYDE at Wilmington Drama League
Photo Credit: MJ Mac Productions
Leslie Bricusse's book follows the basic outline of the often told tale. The good Dr. Henry Jekyll is a man with a mission - develop a serum that will separate mankind's innate dichotomy of good and evil to cure mental illness (mainly, his father). Dr. Jekyll's desire to test his formula is aggressively rebutted by the hospital (asylum) board of directors. What's a healer/chemist/visionary to do? Take the serum yourself, and see what happens. What happens in the musical version is more of a "what did you expect" moment rather than a tension filled drama of good intentions gone horribly wrong.
The cast for Wilmington Drama League's production of Jekyll & Hyde put all their effort into a book that lacks the excitement of a tightly-pulled wire, capable of snapping at any second found in suspense thrillers. The characters of the chaste upstanding fiancée, Emma, and the gutter dwelling prostitute, Lucy, are stereotypical, dated and banal. A very valid question posited by other reviewers and audience members still stands open for discussion: "Do the clichés in the lyrics outnumber the exclamation points, or vice versa?" The tense(?) climax in which Dr. Jekyll attempts to forever do away with his Mr. Hyde persona, requires the Artists playing Jekyll/Hyde to engage in a histrionic singing duel to the death via tossing his hair, turning from side-to-side and lighting changes. In a revival of the show, the use of a pre-recorded Hyde projection was employed along with smoke and mirrors. I've seen WDL use projections with aplomb in other productions (namely, Little Women and Civil War). Perhaps the Stage Director (Brian Kavanagh) missed an opportunity to elevate/reimagine this particular scene. Should you wish for additional entertainment, have a look at "The Hoff" (David Hasslehoff) as Jekyll/Hyde - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H1Pyjw_ZnD8 / https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3rEdb5sJ-tU.
What's good, and even above-average in WDL's production? The Artists. It takes a lot to breathe life into a lackluster written character. This production's main attraction for Frank Wildhorn's quasi-operatic score is Meghan Hickey as Emma Carew. She masterfully exhibits a brilliant soprano voice that sparkles, never overpowers, and is a pleasure to listen to. Ms. Hickey brings just the right touch to Emma's dynamics both vocally and in acting. In a recent cabaret show, Laura Benatti joked about a mystical place called Soprano Isle, and what it would be like to have more head voice in Broadway songs. Ms. Hickey would feel at home on this island.
The ensemble includes additional rounded-tone trained singers who can be picked out only when the listener zeros in, and not because they stand out from the rest. Such voices and musicianship are needed for this musical because not every song is a belting, edge-of-throat escapade. Seems the Music Director, Michael Malloy, understood this fact. The ensemble neatly handles the choreography (Theresa Mignogna) which is busy but not fussy, while dutifully creating the bustling turned eerie streets of London.
Mitch King as Jekyll/Hyde manages to get the point across without falling into too many traps inherent in playing a duel personality. He never reaches a level of campiness, but also never truly reaches a distinguishable depth in his characters. I wonder if his character portrayal is hindered by the reliance of basic stage lighting (Brian Kavanagh & Aaron Cook) that doesn't effectively enhance the inner workings of the roles. The use of a ultra-blue for good and harsh red for evil, switching back and forth on a dime, minimizes the opportunity for the actor to exhibit to the audience the character's inner turmoil. Mr. King's singing voice nicely meets the challenges of the rock opera.
Those who know Jekyll & Hyde from the original Broadway production, know the coveted role of Lucy was played by Frank Wildhorn's then wife, Linda Eder. Ms. Eder would go on to a very successful solo concert career (which I personally experienced when I sang backup for her at a local concert), with devotees screaming and crying at the front of the stage. The revival had Deborah Cox (Aida fame) as Lucy. Both Artists are full in voice with ardent stage presence, attributes not easily possessed by all theater artist. (Of note, as Lucy requires a true Broadway belter, many completing the role will not be asked to live on Soprano Isle.) Kendra Eckbold as Lucy serves the production well. Her vocals are at their best in the Emma and Lucy duet, "In His Eyes."
The supporting roles of John Utterson, Jekyll's lawyer and friend (Dominic Santos), Sir Danvers Carew, Emma's father (Edward Emmi), Simon Stride, Secretary of the Board of Governors and Jekyll's rival for Emma's affections (Michael Zurawski), and Poole, Jekyll's loyal manservant (Keian Hagstrom) are agreeably even-handed.
Any staging of Jekyll & Hyde requires a well-crafted sense of place and time, and the costumes (Laurene Eckbold & Doris Hines) do precisely that. The two tiered set (Brian Kavanagh) is minimalistic below with a nicely adorned laboratory above. However, the fog/smoke billowing throughout the entire show was a bit out of place, and took away from a creepiness of the late-night, murder streets of London when needed. The sound (Jen & Roger Scorziello) was some of the best I've heard at WDL in recent months. The live pit orchestra lead by (Anthony Vitalo) graciously complimented the singers.
If you're a Jekkie (seriously, it's what die-hard Jekyll & Hyde fans are called) or looking to see a musical that isn't often staged in our area, I am certain you will enjoy this production.
JEKYLL & HYDE
Music by Frank Wildhorn
Book & Lyrics by Leslie Bricusse
Stage Director - Brian Kavanagh
Music Director - Michael Malloy
Wilmington Drama League
10 W. Lea Boulevard
Wilmington, DE 19802
Runs Sept 6 through Sept 15