BWW REVIEW: Anthony Warlow And Jemma Rix Stun In Concertworks' JEKYLL & HYDE
Saturday 2nd November 2019, 8pm, Darling Harbour Theatre
In celebration of the 25th Anniversary of the release of the 'Complete Works' double CD of Leslie Bricusse (Book and Lyrics) and Frank Wildhorn's (Music) JEKYLL & HYDE, Concertworks presents the first Australian professional presentation of the gothic musical. Anthony Warlow, who sung the role of Jekyll/Hyde on the CD, returns to the work to finally take on the role completely.
Director Chris Parker has created an elegant yet simple concert staging of the Victorian thriller. The only set comprises of Dr Henry Jekyll's study, represented by an overflowing wooden desk, complete with scientific instruments, and a chaise lounge, all positioned to the left of the stage. A raised catwalk borders Vanessa Scammell's (Musical Director) 21 piece orchestra allowing more variety in the staging. The study setting and the Lamp positioned over the steps to the right of the catwalk work with Victoria Horne's costuming to firmly place the work in 19th century London. Beautiful brocades and bustled skirts in blacks and greys keep the aesthetic dark and mysterious yet elegant. While the majority of the rest of the cast remains in the same costumes throughout, even when 'revived' to become part of the ensemble, Amanda Lea LaVergne, as Jekyll's fiancée Lisa, adds a touch of light to the story for their wedding and John Wood quietly returns to the ensemble in a suit, sans the Bishop of Basingstoke's robes. Warlow is effortlessly transformed from Jekyll to Hyde with the simple addition of a fur trimmed hooded cape, sunglasses and a shift in physicality.
For those unfamiliar with Robert Louis Stevenson's 1886 novella Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, on which JEKYLL & HYDE is based, the story follows Dr Henry Jekyll's quest to isolate the good and evil sides of man's personality in order to better understand human behaviour. When the Board of Governors of St Jude's Hospital refuse his request for a human test subject, Dr Jekyll follows his close friend and lawyer John Utterson's encouragement to not give up on his project and, although probably not what John meant, opts to conduct the experience to on himself. The injected chemicals tap into Dr Jekyll's dark side too well and soon his alter ego Mr Edward Hyde is exacting revenge on anyone he feels is living a hypocritical life, particularly those that hindered Dr Jekyll's research or have in some way betrayed the doctor's trust.
Anthony Warlow is wonderful as Jekyll/Hyde as he gives a textured performance that allows a clear delineation between a gentle, thoughtful, workaholic doctor and the ruthless murderer doling out a brand of bloody justice. He infuses a more sensitive, reflective and textured energy into Jekyll's showstopping pieces like I Need To Know and This Is The Moment ensuring that he positions the works firmly in the context of the story rather than resorting to the cabaret standard stylings that many audiences would probably be more familiar with. For Hyde, Warlow adopts a gruff guttural growl conveying the dark danger of the evil that has been released.
As Camden Town entertainer Lucy, Jemma Rix is fabulous as main attraction at the seedy bar that suggest it sells more that booze and ballads. As with Rix's turn as the devilish Witch of the East in the Wizard of Oz, the role of Lucy suits Rix as she taps into a deliciously mischievous and seductive side to ensure Lucy has a gritty exterior that hides a vulnerable side. Her pure solid vocals are captivating in Someone Like You and A New Life to the point of stopping the show for the longest applause outside of the curtain call.
As Jekyll's closest friend and confidant John Utterson, Martin Crewes delivers a strong performance as the level headed lawyer who's concern for Jekyll's welfare increases as the doctor becomes more and more reclusive. His vocals easily convey the character's stability and loyalty. As Jekyll's future father in law and Chairman of the Board of Governors of St Jude's Hospital Sir Danvers Carew, opera heavyweight Peter Coleman-Wright gives the necessary gravity to the role with his rich deep vocals. Lucy's fellow cabaret performer come working girl Nellie is presented by Annie Aitken who adds an incredible strong pure soprano to the ensemble pieces.
The only distraction from an overall strong production came from the incongruent presentation of Jekyll's fiancé Lisa by American Amanda Lea LaVergne who was making her Australian debut in the production. While the Broadway veteran has a strong soprano voice, all of her vocals were presented with an American accent with overly girly saccharine nuances which was at odds with the attempted English-speaking voice and dramatisation of the devoted fiancé as reasonably level headed and far from immature.
While this concert staging was a one-night event for Sydney, hopefully the strong response will encourage a full staged production to be mounted or encourage Concertworks to bring other less frequently staged musicals to Sydney in a similar staged concert format.