Review: Slow Burn’s ‘Jekyll & Hyde’ transcends musical’s weaknesses
Duality drives “Jekyll & Hyde,” the 1997 hit Broadway musical inspired by Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1886 novella “Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.”
As in Stevenson’s gothic horror story, composer Frank Wildhorn and lyricist/book writer Leslie Bricusse explore the well-intentioned disaster that unfolds when Dr. Henry Jekyll turns himself into a murderous guinea pig to study the good and evil sides of one man’s nature.
They also added dual love interests, the sweetly supportive fiancée Emma Carew for Jekyll, and the “bad” girl with a heart of gold, seedy cabaret headliner Lucy Harris, as the victim of the empathetic doctor’s villainous alter ego, Edward Hyde.
At the Broward Center’s Amaturo Theater, where Slow Burn Theatre Company has just opened an impressive and gloriously sung production of “Jekyll & Hyde,” the third duality long associated with this show pops up yet again: While audiences adore it, critics are prone to pounce on Bricusse’s subpar book and lyrics. Even during the musical’s original Broadway run of 45 previews and 1,543 performances, the show stirred a cultish fervor among theatergoers, while reviewers sniffed their disdain.
Before Slow Burn’s move to the Broward Center a little over three years ago, artistic director Patrick Fitzwater developed a reputation as a director-choreographer who could make even shows with a so-so track record look good. That’s just what he does with “Jekyll & Hyde.”
Key to the production’s success is a cast adept in delivering the score’s demanding vocal pyrotechnics and mining the beauty in ballads.
Tony Edgerton plays the title characters – the impassioned if misguided scientist Jekyll and the demonic Hyde – with an alluring confidence. As with others who have played Dr. J and Mr. H, hair is part of the actor’s transformational tool kit. When he’s Jekyll, Edgerton is well-groomed and dashingly handsome. When he turns into Hyde, his hair flops down over his scowling face, and he lurks in the shadows, ready to employ his “swordstick,” a cane concealing a lethal blade.
Edgerton has a gorgeous baritone voice, an instrument equally lovely when he soars into tenor territory. He thrillingly sings the well-known “This Is the Moment,” when Jekyll is about to destroy his life by giving in to his scientific curiosity, and later has a split-personality faceoff in “Confrontation.” He has a lovely duet with Lindsey Corey’s Emma on “Take Me as I Am” and a bittersweet one with Carla Bordonada’s Lucy on “Sympathy, Tenderness.”
Corey delivers a beautiful “Once Upon a Dream,” playing Emma as a plucky and patient strong-minded woman whose loyalty endures to the very end. She looks like a Victorian dream in a striking array of gowns (including a period wedding dress) by Rick Pena, who is also a member of the show’s ensemble.
The look for Bordonada’s Lucy is more on the Victoria’s Secret end of the design spectrum. She’s a stunning singer, great at conveying the yearning in “Someone Like You,” nailing the hopeful power ballad “A New Life,” turning the come-hither “Bring on the Men” into a tantalizing invitation. She and Corey sing a shimmering duet about the man both love on “In His Eyes,” which includes the unfortunate lyric “love is worth forgiving for.” What? “Jekyll & Hyde” is rife with such clunkers.
The cast surrounding the three leads (four, if you want to count Jekyll and Hyde separately) is full of powerful singing actors. Matthew Korinko shines as Jekyll’s lawyer and friend John Utterson, while Michael Cartwright is sympathetic and supportive as Emma’s father, Sir Danvers Carew. Landon Summers is commandingly oily as Spider, proprietor of the Red Rat where Lucy sings and delivers other services, and disdainful as Lord Savage.
With Savage, Steven Hedger as the sweet-on-Emma Simon Stride, Mike Dinwiddie as the hypocritical Bishop of Basingstoke, J.R. Coley as General Lord Glossop, Sahid Pabon as Sir Archibald Proops and Erin Pittleman as the snooty Lady Beaconsfield comprise the Board of Governors of St. Jude’s Hospital, whose dismissal of Jekyll’s research request will prove bad for their health.
Michael Kreutz, Sean William Davis, Jinon Deeb, Robert Fritz, Sara Grant, Cameron Jordan, Isabella Lopez, Courtney Poston and Peña make up the multitasking ensemble, setting up the atmosphere of “Murder, Murder” by dancing up a fearful storm under umbrellas, maneuvering lamp posts on another number, adding an elegance via Fitzwater’s dreamy choreography to the Jekyll-Emma love duet “Take Me as I Am.”
Musical director Paul Tine and six other musicians hold forth in the pit, achieving a warm and powerful interplay with a cast jam-packed with strong singers.
In addition to Peña’s striking costumes, the world of “Jekyll & Hyde” is summoned via Michael McClain’s creative set (look for the oversized beakers full of bubbling chemicals), Thomas Shorrock’s vivid lighting palette (with blood-red for Hyde’s many murders, natch) and Rachelle Hough’s menace-evoking sound design.
“Jekyll & Hyde” is the musical equivalent of a bodice ripper, a sometimes turgid affair in which Hyde aligns himself with his BFF Satan as he commits a multitude of heinous acts. But the writing is what it is, and Slow Burn transcends those weaknesses to deliver a musically transportive show.
“Jekyll & Hyde” is a Slow Burn Theatre Company production running through Feb. 17 in the Amaturo Theater at the Broward Center, 201 SW Fifth Ave., Fort Lauderdale. Show times are 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday (additional matinee 1 p.m. Feb. 6). Tickets cost $47-$60. To order, call 954-462-0222 go to www.browardcenter.org.
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