by Terrance Mc Arthur
If someone comes off as a really nice person, but suddenly turns mean and nasty, we call him a “Jekyll and Hyde,” all because of Robert Louis Stevenson and a bad dream. That dream, of a man physically turning from good to evil, became the 1886 novella The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Over the last 133 years, the story has appeared on stage, on movie screens, and on television countless times (I actually wrote script and lyrics for a musical comedy version presented when I was in high school in 1969), and in varying degrees of adaptation (Remember Dr. Jekyll & Sister Hyde (1971)?).
Reedley’s River City Theatre Company have staged Jekyll & Hyde a loosely-based musical conceived by Frank Wildhorn and Steve Cuden, with music by Wildhorn, script and some lyrics by Leslie Bricusse (He’d written songs like Goldfinger” and “Talk to the Animals”) and lyrics by Wildhorn, Bricusse and Cuden. It plays at the Reedley Opera House through July 28, and it’s worth seeing. The cramped quarters of the Opera House can work against a show, but J&H seems to benefit from the vintage building and the intimate surroundings.
Dr. Henry Jekyll (Michael Angel), trying to remove evil influences from patients, is denied funding, so he experiments on himself, unleashing a fiendish alter ego, Edward Hyde (Michael Angel, again), who takes vengeance on the financial committee members who slighted Jekyll. His lawyer and friend (Jayromy Mercado), his fiancée Emma (Rebecca Potts), his father-in-law-to-be (Mark Luzania), and a woman of the rougher side of London (Cady Mejias) cross paths with both sides of the man as his control spirals into chaos.
Angel looks sturdy and prim as Jekyll, and transforms into a depraved, demanding, despicable example of the hidden truths behind the Victorian façade. He goes over-the-top as Hyde, but that’s what Hyde is. If there aren’t toothmarks on the scenery by the end of the night, something’s wrong. His grimaces look oddly like an angry version of comedian George Lopez. He sings well, and the frequent wig adjustments of banded and loose much mean a lot of work for the stylist between performances.
Potts is tall and elegant, devoted but wary of a man who seems to challenge society’s rules. Her sweet voice as Emma caresses the lyrics, complementing her gracefulness.
In a show about dichotomies, Mejias as Lucy is the antidote to Potts gentility. Earthy, sensual, teasing, she learns to fear Hyde as he drags her down into battered-woman status.
Luzania is noble and reserved as Sir Danvers, concerned about Jekyll and protective of Emma. He is an anchor around which much of the conflict turns.
Mercado is a loyal friend who tries to help Jekyll, even when he has doubts about the doctor’s methods. He maintains a stiff upper lip and a ramrod-straight spine admirably.
Mike Westby is unctuous and imposing as a committee chairman, Stacey Hall is embalmed in makeup s a pretentious dowager, and Peter Boldt makes a sneering military man. Steven Haynes plays a hypocritical clergyman and a pimping bar owner in performances that show their similarity despite their differing social status.
The music veers between Phantom of the Opera and Les Miserables, with attempts at Sweeney Todd-ness. Glenda Stewart’s choreography blends Bob Fosse with Michael Jackson’s Thriller.
This is not the first production of J&H that I’ve seen (including a video of a Broadway filming that starred David Hasselhoff), but I think it’s the best one.
Reedley’s River City Theatre Company is located at 1720 10th Street, Reedley. For further information and to purchase tickets you can go to their website, or call 559-638-6500 or 866-977-6500.
If you love local theatre, be sure to check out Mysteryrat’s Maze Podcast, which features mysteries read by local actors. You can also find the podcast on iTunes/Apple Podcasts and Google Play, and also on podbean.
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