BWW Review: JEKYLL AND HYDE Brings Evil to Life at Carrollwood Players Theatre

BWW Review: JEKYLL AND HYDE Brings Evil to Life at Carrollwood Players Theatre

Sexy. Stunning. Evocative. Imaginative. Electrifying.

People will be talking about the show, the set, the Victorian-steampunk costumes, the makeup, the props, the lighting, the live sound effects and of course, the gorgeous cast with the stunning voices long after director Derek Baxter's vision of a completely immersive production of JEKYLL & HYDE is nothing but a folded poster in the costume closet.

On Saturday, February 24, I and a nearly-sold-out audience experienced a production like no other ever seen at Carrollwood Players with the pop-rock horror-musical JEKYLL & HYDE.

Based on the Robert Louis Stevenson novel, the musical examines the good and evil found in all mankind. Dr. Henry Jekyll believes his father's mental illness could be cured by medication that could destroy evil and let only good survive. After denial to experiment at the hospital his father is housed, Dr. Jekyll experiments on himself, with chilling results in the form of the murderous Edward Hyde. Despite Dr. Jekyll's upcoming nuptials to his beloved Emma, a love triangle ensues and people fear of London fear a terrifying killer is on a rampage. Dr. Jekyll must find a cure before the sinister Mr. Hyde takes over permanently.

Chelsie Camaro Smith's set was a character on its own. The stage, curtain-free, stripped to bare walls, offered a view, patrons had seldom seen before. From the ornate chandeliers to the colorful fabrics on the wall, my eyes didn't know where to look first. There were so many beautiful pieces that blended together to create a spectacular interpretation of Derek's concept. Chelsie's color palette worked its way from the stunning set to the vintage steam punk costumes designed by Debbi Lastinger and Georgia Kosloski that create a cohesive look to the musical.

And even before the show began, the cast began appearing on stage, in unusual makeup and stages of dress, and broke the fourth wall to interact directly with the audience. From the moment they appeared on stage, the entire audience found themselves part of the production.

Innovative makeup and hair design by cast member and hair stylist Drew Eberhard lent exceptionally to the carnival feeling the set evoked.

Channeling MOULIN ROUGE meets REPO! THE GENETIC OPERA meets organized circus mayhem, Georgia was comic relief, flirting and hawking raffle tickets, counting patrons as they arrived in the theatre. "There was five," she paused and counted. "Now there's.... more than 5." She asked the audience "why are you here" and different members of the cast called out to the audience and claimed the space as the vagabond traveling theatre company's own.

A call out of "5 minutes" by stage manager Victoria Richards that would normally be behind-the-scenes gave the actors the countdown to showtime. And then the lights dimmed, Erich emerged into the spotlight to begin the tortured tale and the audience was riveted.

Despite the singers initially competing to be heard over the music, once sound was corrected, the vocalists in this production can only be described as powerhouse. There wasn't a weak link in the cast of 20.

A show that could easily go over-the-top - not in a good way, Derek created a captivating visual - from start to finish, seemingly effortless set changes, moving from one scene to the next. Even the cast, when not in a scene, served as set pieces, never leaving the stage, seated against the back and side walls, adding to the ground-breaking concept.

All the main cast members, accomplished vocalists, took on the immensely challenging score with ease. Erich Krzyzak debuted as Dr. Jekyll and brilliantly transforms back and forth into Mr. Hyde. His vocal and physical transformation from Jekyll to Hyde is riveting. The facial expression, the turn of his lip, the squint of his eyes - he is no longer the kind Dr. Jekyll, but the violent, raging Mr. Hyde. His performance in "Alive Reprise" is truly an extraordinary and terrifying undertaking.

Incredible soprano Danea Barrett as Emma Carew, Henry Jekyll's virtuous, naïve and

BWW Review: JEKYLL AND HYDE Brings Evil to Life at Carrollwood Players Theatre
Photo by Beth Behner

forgiving fiancée and raw, vocal powerhouse Karli Marie Gundersen as Lucy Harris, the singer/prostitute, are perfect compliments to Erich's good and evil side. The women's duet "In Henry's Eyes" is a spell-bounding, goosebumps-inducing moment - especially when the voices blend in crescendo.

Craig Ruska was convincing as John Utterson, Dr. Jekyll's devoted friend who tried desperately to sway his viewpoint and warn him of what was at stake in "Pursue the Truth."

Anyone with an adult child will remember the heartbreak David Fraga echoes as Emma's doting father, Sir Danvers Carew as he reflects on losing his daughter in "Letting Go." You could feel his love and fear in the line "when the day comes that I must say goodbye to you, it's the last thing in life I'll ever want to do...."

Drew Eberhard incredible and unique vocals brought to life the hospital board of governors allegedly-impartial secretary, smug Simon Stride, who joined the board's decision to deny Jekyll the right to experiment in "Board of Governors."

The choreography of JEKYLL & HYDE was spot on, with my absolute favorite scenes being pieces like "Façade," "Board of Governors," and "Murder, Murder." The group numbers showcased beautiful voices and seamless choreography of the ensemble. Aleah Hoggatt and Israel Rivera were standout vocals.

The female cast in The Red Rat, a gentlemen's club, a scene that introduced Lucy was my favorite to ever grace Carrollwood Players' stage. The fabric hoops, the lighting, the choreography and of course, the voices pronouncing "Bring On the Men" was entrancing. ­

Each of the cast members deserve a special shout-out. This was a fearless performance.

I did want to give special mention to foley artist Brian McCreight whose sound effects provided an additional sensory experience that added to the authenticity.

If you a looking for a great night of theatre - something you've likely never seen before - even if you've seen other productions of JEKYLL & HYDE - don't miss your opportunity through March 17 to immerse yourself in this production. Derek has assembled a sublime cast and production team to produce a visually and vocally stunning production. It is something you won't soon forget.

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From This Author Deborah Bostock-Kelley

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