Review by Danny Gaisin
Like most of my generation; R.L. Stevenson’s ‘Treasure Island’; “Kidnapped”, and Master of Ballantrae were de rigeuer novels. His ‘Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde’ was considered somewhat verboten for young minds. Understandable; because the plot deals with Dis-associative Identity Disorder; or ‘split personality’. The psychological duality or dichotomy of societal morality vs. human instinct is just as pervasive today as it was in 1886 when R.L.S. wrote his book. The Wildhorn/Cuden/ Bricusse musical interpretation is now 25 years old.
City Centre Musical Productions displays a sense of confidence in their production crew and thespian talent-pool to undertake staging such an intricate & demanding play. The format is almost operatic with thirty-two arias and a dearth of spoken dialogue. Fairly true to the original, “J & H” directorial focus emphasizes behavioral hypocrisy by accentuating such major numbers as “Façade” during which the entire company underscores the contradictions intrinsic in all of us. Hey; even daydreaming is a form of “D.I.D.”! True!
At the helm, director Michael MacLennan keeps a tight rein on his charges. The result is not an impression of cast improvisation but rather a professional and highly polished outcome. The major roles are performed with intensity and exude charismatic portrayals. The title character (characters) is played by Eric Charters who brings passion and authority to his interpretation(s). His voice is certainly up to the demands of almost constant vocalizing and the scene where he must demonstrate continual interspacing of both protagonists is worthy of Sean Cullen’s rendering of the re-iteration shtick in “The Producers”. His opening duet with fiancée “Emma” (Lisa Jackson) aptly entitled “Take me as I am” could be a pop hit, even out of context. Same with Jackson’s Act II solo aria – “Once Upon a Dream”. The writing trio’s lyrics are so poetic as to be almost telegraphic. Given the chorus reprises, audiences can be forgiven for sotto voce sing-alongs!
The pivotal role of the voluptuous whore ‘Lucy’ is so well-defined by Erin Mouchian that her acting is only outdone by a superb mezzo voice. She IS Lucy. She too, manifests a façade and exhibits an understandable desire for status change. Jekyll’s lawyer friend ‘Utterson’ is a sympathetic and compassionate Ted Powers; while Paul Fletcher brings a strong baritone and a powerful empathy to Jekyll’s future father-in-law who also is between a rock & a hard place as chairman of the Doctor’s residency hospital. Support an almost-family member or follow one’s conscience…Fletcher’s angst is mesmerizing.
Another solid support role is that of Lord Savage whose hypocrisy reflects the rationale of the whole plot. Karl Kwiatkowski injects a soupçon of human frailty into his character reading, exhibiting credibility and a sense of familiarity with such a foible of human nature. All the cast perform as though aware that what they are staging is something essential and certainly extraordinary. The props by Karin Rider help overcome the set sparsity as do the elaborate costuming by Alex & Carmen Amini.
The musical score, with the exception of the numbers mentioned above, are somewhat repetitious. In some cases seem counterpuntal to the melody being sung on-stage… unusual, but dramatically effective. Bob Hardinge and his orchestra never overpower and were technically faultless from overture to finale.
Being identified as ’opera’ should not be a barrier to potential audiences, nor should the salacious and politically incorrect moments in the play. Like last Year’s “Les Miz”; missing such a thespian enterprise as JEKYLL & HYDE, The Musical” will leave one with serious regrets. J & H will be at Meadowvale Theatre until March 20th.