Review: Jekyll and Hyde at the Empress Theatre

Jekyll & Hyde is a musical that is very often performed around the Halloween Holiday and for a good reason,   this musical is based on the novel “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” by Robert Louis Stevenson.  The story tells a tale of a London doctor in the 19th century, Henry Jekyll, who conducts experiments on himself in search of a cure for mental illness, like the one that afflicted his father.  However, in his search for the cause of evil in man he unintentionally taps into his own strange alter-ego, Mr. Hyde, who wreaks havoc on London.  The Halloween season makes a great backdrop for this show.

This year this musical also got a good boost in the news as in January of this year it was announced that Nike Nedavoy, Rick Nicita and his production company RP Media had secured the rights for a film version of this musical and that the show would be returning to Broadway in Spring of this year.  When that news came out I knew I was probably going to see a resurgence of this show this year, my only hope was that it would not be attempted in venues by casts that were not well equipped for this show.

The Empress Theater is a small studio sized theater but it does have the size and stage necessary to accommodate the requirements of Jekyll & Hyde.  There are not many scenes that need to be set, the streets of London, Jekyll’s lab, a hospital meeting room, the Carew home, Lucy’s Bedroom, a Gentlemen’s Club and an Apothecary and a few other miscellaneous stagings and that’s it.  Also this show requires either a massive ensemble or one with massive voices.  London is a crowded place, even in the 19th century and this show attempts to wow the audience in two ways.  One with the dark story line and the other with a wall of sound, especially in ensemble numbers.  This production simply did not deliver on the wall of sound element.  There was simply not a large enough ensemble and those that were there most of them were very restrictive with their singing.  The first ensemble number, “Façade”, was a huge disappointment dynamically, the soft and loud sections of that number had no real audible difference.  The largest disappointment came at the opening of the second act with “Murder, Murder”, in this number the town literally screams in terror about 4 murders that have happened in a little more than a week at the hand of some unknown killer.  However there was no sense that the town was terrified in this production.  It seemed more like they were merely conversing about these unfortunate murders over afternoon tea; they ranked right up there with the cloudy and rainy weather all too often seen in London.

Another aspect of this production that I was underwhelmed by was the lack of acting or commitment to character.  For many it seemed like they were just out there delivering lines as a means of getting from one song to the next.  There can be a good deal of character development in this show many of the characters do not end up the same at the end of the show as when we first met them.  I saw no character development from any of the main characters and very little commitment from any in the cast to their character.  The only real believable character I did see was “Spider” played by Skye Davis. (His last name is just a coincidence, no relation)  Who?  I would not blame you for having seen this show many times and not noticing that character.  Spider is the proprietor of “The Red Rat” the club where Lucy “performs” and he only has about 5 minutes of stage time and a few small vocal solos.  But his lines and singing were well delivered.  He made no apologies in his tone of voice or body language for what he was doing.  If you play a jerk, be a jerk.  If you play a prostitute, act like a prostitute.  If you play a narrow minded pompous … person.  You get the idea, learn your character and become that character.  I always like meeting the cast after a show and seeing what they are really like because hopefully I saw someone different on stage, not so this time.

Because this show attempts to wow the audience with a wall of sound, I would have liked to see a temporary upgrade to the Empress sound system.  Throughout the show the sound track was louder than the vocalists.  I could tell Megan Brown, the sound operator, heard this issue and attempted to correct it by turning up some of the mics to the point of beginning feedback many times but never attempted to adjust the volume of the soundtrack.  If she had done that it would be likely that we would not have been able to hear anything as it seemed like there was just not enough power in the current sound system for this show.  This could have been corrected with bringing in a few temporary amps.

The lighting design also had a few holes.  The Northeast corner of the stage was dark for most of the ensemble numbers and often times ensemble members in that area of the stage were not lit.  Also the same can be said for the second row of lights on the north end of the stage those lights were pointed upstage while on the South end of the stage those lights were pointed down.  So this resulted in more faces in shadows on the North end of the theater.  I am not sure what was gained by this lighting design but sitting on the North end of the stage I was very aware of what was lost.  There were many lighting cues in this production and Geoffrey Gregory, the light board operator was on point all night I did not notice a single missed light cue, many of them timed to the music.  I very much appreciate a lighting designer who designs not only around the costumes and scenes but also the music so Lighting and Sound Designer Curtis Bailey did a good job with that aspect.  His board operators did the best job they could working in less than an ideal environment.

Musically this production was adequate, I can tell this cast spent the majority of their time working on music and timing with the soundtrack.  The vocal standout of the night was Lucy played by Sarah Johnson.  We got to see the vocal power that she is capable of in “Bring on the Men” and “Dangerous Game.”  However this only further brought to light the contrast in ability between her and some other members of the cast.  I felt the Emma Carew played by Andrea K. Fife was either a little sick or had overextended her voice in recent rehearsals.  She seemed to be reaching for power and support that she expected to be there but just wasn’t and it seemed like a few times this caught her off guard.  I also thought that I heard a bit of hoarseness in her voice in the second act.  However there were times when wrong notes were sung and this just shows a lack of time and rehearsal spent with the material which is very disappointing to see from someone in a leading role.

I am going to plagiarize from one of my previous reviews for this next section, “normally when I see a member of the theater staff or Production Board, involved in the production, I usually watch the character in a little more critical manner and hope that I see something in them that justified the productions decision to cast them.” Henry Jekyll/Mr. Hyde played by Eric Barney, who is also the Chairman of the Board of Directors for Oquirrh Hills Performing Arts Alliance and the Executive Director of the Empress Theater, was simply not convincing in this role.  Very often I struggled to understand his lines and hear him sing, the acting in the part of Jekyll was flat and more meek than it should have been for the stage.  I understand Dr. Jekyll is mild mannered and in dark contrast to Mr. Hyde but Barney played it more like Dr. Valium.  Had this been a theater where the audience sat more than 30 feet away from him they might have fallen asleep.

When we got to Act 2 and Mr. Hyde came out my thought was, well now we are getting somewhere, still not all the way there but finally some level of emotion and commitment to character from someone in the cast.  However I did not really see him in Act 2, hardly anyone did, and it was not a lighting issue.  He spent most of Act 2 singing upstage to a mirror in his lab.  I get it, he is going back and forth from Jekyll to Hyde to Jekyll again and again.  However this kind of trick is more reserved for Hollywood where we can stick a camera in front of the mirror and still see your face.  I go to show to see the show and the folks in the show, if I wanted to see no one or just listen to this music I would call up Spotify on my phone and listen away.  I was very disappointed in Barney’s performance and it is my opinion that he was handed this role given his position in both organizations presenting this production.  I don’t ever like to see this in a production and I think it cast the production in a very negative and unprofessional light.

It is hard to go wrong by taking a chance on a production at the Empress at a $10 General Admission price point they have found the perfect ticket price to make an evening out affordable and worth the chance that you may end up seeing a show that is not your cup of tea.  Unfortunately I find Jekyll & Hyde a great show and I feel that many people may see this production and make summary judgments about this show and be turned off to ever seeing another production of this show again.  For that reason I cannot recommend this production if this will be your first exposure to this show.  But if you are looking for something to do around Halloween that has a Halloween like theme then the Empress might scratch that itch for you.

The Empress Theatre and The Oquirrh Hills Performing Arts Alliance’s production of “Jekyll & Hyde” performs October 11th – November 2nd  Friday’s, Saturday’s and Monday’s at 7:30 pm with a Matinee performance on Saturday October 19th at 2pm at The Empress Theatre, 9104 West 2700 South, Magna, 84044. Tickets are $10 for General Admission and available at http://www.empresstheatre.com/ or by calling 801-347-7373 Running time: Approx. 2 hours 30 minutes, 10 minute intermission.

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3 Responses to Review: Jekyll and Hyde at the Empress Theatre

  1. Guest says:

    It sounds to me like you attended this production with the intent of finding every single, tiny, microscopic flaw, which most people wouldn’t even notice. Your intense negativity detracts from your credibility. Either you went in with the predetermined mindset that you were going to hate it, no matter what, or you have no idea how to enjoy a show. Honestly, I hope it’s the latter, as such an appreciation can certainly be learned, whereas closed-mindedness runs deep. I would recommend this show to anyone and everyone who is in the mood for something emotional, haunting, and utterly beautiful, because that’s what this show is. Kudos to the Empress!

  2. Guest2 says:

    No “Guest”. The reviewer was very accurate in his analysis and I appreciate his honesty. I saw the show this past Friday and whole heartily agree. The show was dreadful to say the least. This was far worse than a high school production.

  3. Julie Reed says:

    I agree with Guest2. Shaun was very accurate in his summation of the show. I saw the show this last Saturday and must say that I felt he was rather kind not to point out more of the flaws or name some of the people who were lacking in their attention to detail in casting, vocal integrity, inspirational acting & exciting choreography. I have seen other shows at the Empress and was really disappointed by this production. Not to mention some of the costumes which were really not suited to said characters. It is an injustice to a person to give them a role they simply cannot perform well. It is clear that a vision of what this show could have really been & the audience that could have been drawn from around the valley was overlooked from the beginning of inception of this production. Had this show been cast right and attention given to details in all aspects this would have been an overwhelmingly incredible show.

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