If you are in the mood for a dark musical just in time for Halloween this may be a good choice. Jekyll and Hyde is a challenging undertaking for many reasons. It contains some great songs and memorable ballads, but a criticism of much of composer Frank Wildhorn’s works is that the songs portray states of being and do little to progress the storyline and the book of Jekyll and Hyde is lacking in many ways. When writing is weak and actors are faced with many ballads that reveal very little information or repeat the same message over and over in different keys, then the actors must perform exceptionally well and kind of make up for these deficiencies through clear objectives, a variety of tactics and real discoveries to pull it off. A good director can make up for the weak script by making strong choices and filling the scenes with a clear subtext.
In order for Jekyll and Hyde to be successful two things must be present: very strong directing and detailed choices to compensate for the lacking material, and a strong dimensional actor playing Dr. Jekyll. Unfortunately this production was not up for the challenge and failed on both accounts.
First the directing was unclear. Many of the subplots were lost and difficult to follow mainly due to the underdeveloped script, but the directing did little to compensate for this deficiency. There were many unanswered questions for me, such as “why was Dr. Jekyll so driven in his experiment that he was willing to sacrifice everything in his life to accomplish it?” Presumably to save his father –that he was convinced evil was responsible for his father’s condition– but this relationship and subplot was not developed. Or “what made Emma so in love with Henry Jekyll that she was willing to stay by his side in spite of his obsession and neglect of her?” Or for that matter, “why did Lucy fall in love so quickly with Henry Jekyll?”
Next, the pacing of the show was too slow. Act one really dragged and the scenes had very little to no shaping. They also seemed to end abruptly with no clear finish. Many of the group numbers, while having a nice blend to them by the ensemble, failed to reach a level of excitement or intensity to them. Such big numbers such as “Murder, Murder” really fell flat.
Secondly, there was a general absence of clear relationship between the characters. The stage combat was lacking and didn’t have the intensity or believability needed to look real. They looked just like that, “staged fight scenes.” The staging was a bit void of variety and the blocking did not create interesting pictures or levels needed to accentuate the storytelling. As a result the production was fairly boring, one-dimensional and did not reach the synergy or momentum needed to be successful.
As I mentioned, the principal character Dr. Jekyll either makes or breaks the show. And in this case he broke it. I was very disappointed in Daniel T. Simons’ performance. I felt that this was poor casting. I had trouble believing him as either Jekyll or Hyde. It is my understanding that this role was pre-cast, as Mr. Simons is the Artistic Director and a Founder of Dark Horse Company Theatre. I don’t believe that he would have been cast in this role in an open casting call. Though Mr. Simons had a very nice singing voice—well trained with proper technique, he in no way encompassed the passionate, obsessed yet charismatic Henry Jekyll. Physically he was very weak. Also, he did not have the edge or danger as Hyde either, and I never felt that he was 100% committed to either character. There was not nearly enough variety between the two characters and consequently it was not the least bit believable that his close friends would not have recognized him as Henry Jekyll when he was interacting with them as Edward Hyde. I could only suspend my disbelief so much. I wanted to see a much greater contrast in his physicality and energy in the two different roles. Mr. Simons played it way too safe. I wanted more risks, greater intensity, stronger choices and an overall greater intensity and commitment to his objectives. Dr. Jekyll needs to become so obsessed and so driven and passionate for his cause that it consumes him. I did not see this passion develop which is absolutely critical for the transformation and emergence of Hyde. The lack of choices and objectives were especially evident in many of Simons’ solos. His most powerful ballad and most famous song of the show “This is the Moment” was especially disappointing. The entire number was on one level and lacked excitement and builds and therefore was anti-climatic. Additionally “Confrontation” needed greater contrast and to move at a faster pace. In general, Simons ranged between a mezzo-piano and mezzo-forte dynamic in his songs (and arguably his acting choices as well). I really wanted to see him raise the stakes; we needed pianissimos, fortes, and greater variety with clearer choices. The choices made were too subtle to come across effectively. Because of these reasons I felt very little empathy for Dr. Jekyll and I did not feel the fear or danger of Mr. Hyde.
Next onto a few of the supporting characters. Lucy Harris (Ginger Bess) was probably the strongest principal of the show. She has a powerful and well-trained voice and did a nice job with “Someone Like You.” However, I wanted more choices from her as well. I had trouble seeing the chemistry between her and Dr. Jekyll. Their relationship was not clear and I did not see her journey throughout the play or understand what she saw in Dr. Jekyll. I also wanted to see a greater level of fear from her when interacting with Mr. Hyde.
Emma Carew (Michelle Blake) also had a nice voice, but she confused me. Stylistically she did not seem to fit with the rest of the show. Her style and portrayal of Emma seemed a bit stiff and she came across as a visitor from the opera world or perhaps a Gilbert and Sullivan character, but certainly not a character in contemporary musical theatre. This was especially evident in comparison to the rest of the characters and this incongruity was distracting. Her duet with Henry Jekyll: “Take me as I Am”, failed to reveal the love or passion she had for him. They were void of chemistry and their relationship was very shallow.
I was especially disappointed with the portrayal of Simon Stride (Craig Williams). I felt that he was too weak for the role. I had a lot of trouble believing him as the abusive lover of Lucy. I wanted more grit and masculine energy from him. His physicality and energy needed upped considerably.
A few of the supporting characters that deserve mentioning include John Utterson (DRU), Sir Danver Carew (Jim Dale) and Sir Archibald Proops (Aleksndr Arteaga). DRU brought a believability and sincerity as the conflicted yet loyal friend of Dr. Jekyll. I believed his relationship and he brought a nice variety of tactics and dimension to this role. Jim Dale brought out the concerned and loving father to Emma and had some nice moments. Aleksndr Arteaga, as Sir Archibald Proops, had one of the most powerful voices of the evening and energized many of the scenes during his solos with his rich baritone voice.
A few other positive aspects of the show were the set and costumes. Kevin Dudley did a fantastic job with the space and created an interesting and dimensional set that helped the mood of the show. The costumes were creative and colorful. Katie Miller’s costume designs added much to story and time period as well.
The orchestra was decent, but the keyboards tried to substitute for many of the instruments, which created a synthesized sound reminiscent of the ‘80’s. The sound was not always balanced with the singers and I would have liked to turn up the singers and orchestra up a few notches.
I am generally a fan of Dark Horse Company Theatre productions and was very excited to see this show. However, I was disappointed, as this production did not come close to my expectations. Kind of like a movie with a lot of hype that you go to and it doesn’t measure up. I have seen Jekyll and Hyde twice, once on Broadway and once at a professional dinner theatre. This is by far the weakest version I have seen (unless you include the video recording of Jekyll and Hyde with David Hasselhoff as Dr. Jekyll). A lacking script, combined with a flat Dr. Jekyll and weak directing will lead to a disappointing and long evening. I think that viewers will enjoy the music and talented singers, but will have difficulty following the plot and will not become fully engaged in the story.
Dark Horse Company Theatre’s JEKYLL & HYDE performs at The Egyptian Theatre in Park City, October 18-29, 2012. Tickets are Reserved Seating: $25 Advance/$30 Door
Front-of-House Seating: $30 Advance/ $35 Door; Cabaret Seating: $40 Advance/$45 Door – available online or at the Egyptian Theater Box Office.