There are two villains in the Music Circus production of “Jekyll and Hyde, the Musical.” The first is Mr. Edward Hyde, the evil alter-ego of Dr. Henry Jekyll (Mike McGowan). The second is Robert Sereno, sound designer for the show.
“Jekyll and Hyde” is a vocally demanding show which requires top quality voices (which director Marcia Milgrom Dodge has found) and there is no earthly reason why such voices should be amplified to at least ear-splitting levels, and at most occasional distortion. Would a sound designer dare to mic Ethel Merman? I longed for ear plugs before the lengthy first act ended and I overheard other patrons complaining about the volume after the show as well.
“Jekyll and Hyde” (the latest working of the Robert Louis Stevenson book) is not a show for children. It is dark and cruel, romantic and sensual, but macabre and disturbing. But it does accurately depict the story of the idealistic young Dr. Jekyll, distraught at his inability to help understand his father’s madness and subsequent death. The doctor wants to study the good and the bad side of human beings, in the hope of being able to remove evil from the world and prevent others from suffering the pain he has suffered watching the death of his father. Failing to get backing from his hospital’s board of governors, Jekyll becomes his own guinea pig.
The experiment backfired, of course, and instead of understanding evil, he actually becomes evil and ultimately destroys everything he most holds dear.
There have been countless adaptations of the Stevenson book, including more than 60 movie versions alone. The current production did not start out as a stage show. It was first a studio recording by Frank Wildhorn (music) and Leslie Bricusse (libretto). The music found its audience and a production conceived for the stage by Steve Cuden and Frank Wildhorn opened in Houston in 1990. It later had a three year run on Broadway and was nominated for four Tony awards.
Mike McGowan is making his Music Circus debut, tackling the dual role of Jekyll and Hyde. He has a strong, steady, opera quality voice and his transformation from one personality to the other was seamless. Because of the nature of theater in the round, our side of the house wasn’t always able to see the expression on his face, but his instant transformation at the final bow gave everyone a chance to see the transformation in action and it was impressive. His “This is the Moment,” the moment when he takes the chemicals he has been preparing and begins the transformation to Hyde was outstanding.
Jekyll’s fiancee, the early feminist Emma Carew (Liz Pearce) stands by her man at all costs, even when he’s not quite himself. Pearce gave a solid performance, though her vocals were merely adequate. (She gets high marks, however, for singing one song while walking in a circle around the stage on platforms which were constantly shifting up and down.)
Maria Eberline as the prostitute Lucy, however, was superb. She brought fire and passion to the role, yet there was the underlying earning to find happiness in her life. Her “Bring on the Men,” following a poignant scene in her dressing room was excellent.
An outstanding number was the duet between Lucy and Emma, “In His Eyes,” where each sings of her love for Jekyll. It was eerily reminiscent of “I Knew Him So Well” from “Chess.”
Bob Richard’s choreography was excellent, especially in darker, more frenetic numbers like “Murder,” as Hyde begins his killing spree.
The chorus has some wonderful numbers in the show, including “Facade,” describing the faces we present to the world and the face that we hide inside; and “Murder, Murder,” in the panic that ensues following the murder of the Bishop of Basingstoke, which sets off a string of other murders as Hyde’s fury begins to be released.
Kyle Lemoi’s lighting design was essential to the mood of this piece. The pools of light for “In His Eyes” and the lighting for Jekyll’s laboratory were particularly impressive.
This is not a show for everyone. But going into it realizing the nature of the story and understanding that this is perhaps more operatic than musical theater will help in the enjoyment and appreciation of it.
So will ear plugs.