Jekyll and Hyde
Review written by Tyson Legg.
Jekyll and Hyde is an extremely challenging musical. From its complex score to its mature themes of duality and madness, it can be a hard task even in the most capable of hands. ARC have done a commendable job of tackling this demanding material, although it does fall short of being an excellent production due predominantly to the youthfulness and lack of experience across the cast and production team.
For those who don't know, Jekyll and Hyde: The Musical is based on the classic novella “The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde” by Robert Louis Stevenson. It tells the tale of a young doctor who, while experimenting with the nature of good and evil, unleashes a dark half of his own personality who then threatens to consume him whole. It is a terrifying story full of murder and mystery, and its influence can be seen in a great number of modern horror stories and films. It is a universal story, one that translates extremely well to the stage, supported by a suitably epic and gothic score.
As the title suggests, the production relies heavily on the character of Dr Jekyll/Mr Hyde, a role that Leighton Irwin has thrown himself into with great conviction. It is an extremely difficult role, perhaps one of the most difficult in musical theatre, and Irwin should be congratulated for never falling under the weight of its intricacies. While not the ideal age or physicality for the role, Irwin managed to be convincing and tackled the split personalities with fervour. He did struggle vocally at times as some of the score did exceed his vocal range, and more emphasis seemed to be placed on the Hyde character than that of Jekyll, which weakened some of the more emotional moments when our hero struggles with his conscience. Overall, I commend Irwin for his passionate performance in spite of his weaknesses.
Supporting Irwin were the two women in his life, Lucy Harris and Emma Carew played by Tess Branchflower and Rosabelle Elliot respectively. Vocally, these two characters were a standout, easily handling notes that would crumble even seasoned performers. It was a highlight to hear them sing together during the Act 2 number “In His Eyes” where each had a chance to shine. It was a shame though that neither of these characters made the desired impact on the story, leaving Jekyll/Hyde's motivations cloudy at best. Each were clearly capable actresses and I look forward to seeing them in the future once they have gained more experience.
The rest of the supporting cast and ensemble were consistent and performed their roles with high energy and attention to detail. The full ensemble vocal sound was quite strong and at certain points throughout provided moments of true excellence.
The technical elements of this production were excellent, but considering the talent involved this is no surprise. Jason Bovaird once again proves that he is one of the most accomplished lighting designers in Melbourne, creating an evocative and deep performance space despite having little to no set to work with. Especially impressive were the contrasts of colour used to represent the transformations between good and evil suffered by the title character. While on paper this may seem like an obvious choice but the execution was exemplary and warranted mentioning.
Equally impressive was the sound design from Marcello Lo Ricco. The orchestra sounded wonderfully lush during some of the more grand moments in the score and the vocals were always balanced well, especially during the full ensemble numbers.
Simon D'Aquino has done a satisfactory job of musically directing this production, helping to shape a sometimes impressive ensemble sound and assembling an orchestra capable enough to handle the material. Sadly though I feel as though the musicality of the piece was largely ignored, resulting in moments that should swell with passion and terror simply limping to their conclusion, vocally and orchestrally. The haunting nature of this score is as important as any other aspect of the production to set the mood, almost as if it is its own character, and this is something I feel D'Aquino should have investigated more. There were times when the underscoring beautifully highlighted the on stage action, but also more that felt empty and lifeless. I commend him though for his ability recover quickly from problems that occurred over the course of this opening night, technical and otherwise.
As directed by Jason Vikse (with movement and assistance from Emily Altis), this production lacked a core element that is imperative to the success of this piece, and that is its sense of terror. Without it, it becomes little more than a soap opera, and much of the tragedy becomes cause for laughter as opposed to empathy. While Vikse and Altis have made excellent use of the clearly limited budget with simple set pieces to establish space and instilled a reasonable sense of momentum and foreboding throughout, sadly they have failed to bring any horror to the story. Moments that should send chills down your spine passed quickly without much fanfare, and the montage of Hyde's murders that opens act 2 was awkward in its presentation rather than frightening. The scene that WAS effective though was (spoiler alert!!!!) the murder of Lucy late in act 2. It was simple yet chilling and there were even gasps from the audience as her fate was sealed. It's a shame that the rest of the production didn't have the same effect, as it would have immensely improved the viewing experience.
Special mention goes to the movement of Altis. The difficulty in piecing together some of the larger ensemble numbers did not seem be a problem for her, as they usually flowed well and with great energy. Although the choreography for the Act 1 favourite “Bring On The Men” was creative and well executed, the number “Murder Murder” felt as though it was over-choreographed, as the piece called for more simple movement as opposed to the Broadway style routine we were treated to. Clearly Altis is a talented choreographer and I look forward to her gaining more experience.
This production of Jekyll and Hyde clearly had its faults, but this is not a reason to stay away from it. There are not many companies around that will tackle a show like this, especially in a youth environment that lacks the experience of some of Victoria's larger established companies, and ARC need to be congratulated for their undertaking. A gamble such as this one deserves respect and recognition and although I found fault with this production I'm sure many others will be less critical. I hope ARC continue to push themselves creatively in the future, as they are surrounded by the potential for excellence.