On Theater: An ambitious maiden voyage

A new Huntington Beach company, Party by Number Entertainment, has entered the musical theater arena with a vengeance — this term is applicable in that its main character takes grisly revenge on those who wronged his more subdued self.

No fluffy boy-meets-girl melodic comedy for this maiden voyage. The troupe has mounted a full-scale production of "Jekyll & Hyde, the Musical" at Orange's Village Theater, and it's a mixed blessing indeed.

Performances in this tuneful adaptation of the Robert Louis Stevenson classic horror show are impressive. Technical aspects, however, leave much to be desired — perhaps because the director was too involved with playing the leading role(s) and choreographing to oversee the more brick-and-mortar aspects of the production.

Certainly Sergio Candido delivers a magnificent portrayal of the title character(s), literature's ultimate split personality, and his vocalizing is worthy of an ovation — particularly during the "Confrontation" number near the climax as both characters clash. This is a challenging role for which professional talent is demanded, and Candido's performance throbs with, alternately, intellectual and animalistic passion.

But this singular triumph is offset by an overzealous orchestra (playing in the balcony but still drowning out much of the singing and spoken dialogue), a setting composed of two columns and a few black curtains, a sound system gone rogue and unsettling backstage noise.

Stevenson created "Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" in 1886 and it's been reborn many times on stage and screen ever since with bloody violence rivaling that of "Sweeney Todd." The central character, a doctor researching man's capacity for good and evil, is rejected for funding by his hospital's board of governors — so he experiments on himself and, as his lethal alter ego Edward Hyde, proceeds to gleefully dispatch each of the dissenting board members.

Candido has elicited several splendid performances from his supporting cast. Abby Bolin gives a heartfelt account of Jekyll's sweet, concerned fiancee, Bradley Miller is a staunch ally as her father and one of the doctor's few true friends, and John Utterson is solid as Jekyll's lawyer and confidante, while Vanessa Cedeno excels as the sultry streetwalker who sees the human side of the vicious Hyde.

Radames Gil stands out among a contingent of antagonists, well played by Israel Cortez, Dawn Doherty, Ron Hanson, David Lonky and John Garza. The ensembles of townspeople and ladies of the evening are deftly drilled by choreographer Candido.

Most irritating, technically, is the volume emanating from the balcony. The Fullerton College Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of Dean Anderson, while strong and mood-enhancing, would be far more effective if toned down to underscore the action rather than overcome it.

Other technical problems such as the scratchy sound and backstage commotion should be ironed out with subsequent performances and familiarization with the theater, a converted movie house.

Commendation is in order for the Party by Number Entertainment troupe. "Jekyll and Hyde" is an ambitious opening gambit, and plans have been laid to present "Fiddler on the Roof" in May and "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" next November.

TOM TITUS reviews local theater for the Independent.

If You Go

What: "Jekyll & Hyde, the Musical"

Who: Party by Number Entertainment, Huntington Beach

Where: Village Theater, 1140 N. Tustin St., Orange

Cost: $21 to $25

Information: (714) 316-8826

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