Review: Jekyll & Hyde The Musical by Bishop's Stortford Musical Theatre Company at Rhodes Arts Complex
Hands up if you knew there was a stage musical version of Jekyll and Hyde. Can you name a song from it? Nope, me neither.
The fact that it was first performed (in 1990) more than a century after Robert Louis Stevenson's gothic novella, Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, was published in 1886 tells you why.
A serial killer on the loose in Victorian London – at the same time that Jack the Ripper was a thing – as a result of one man's experiments in his examination into the human inner struggle between good and evil is not your usual Rodgers and Hammerstein hunting ground.
As a result, the musical created by Frank Wildhorn, Steve Cuden and Leslie Bricusse is naturally dark and heavy.
In that sense, Bishop's Stortford Musical Theatre Company (BSMTC) is to be applauded for its change of direction after its last three big autumn production choices of Oklahoma!, Sister Act and Calamity Jane. So it was with a sense of intrigue and curiosity that I took my seat at Rhodes Arts Complex for Monday's opening night.
It soon became apparent that Jekyll & Hyde The Musical veers towards the Les Miserables style; not that there is sung dialogue throughout but that it's a musical with a lot of music in it. The live nine-piece orchestra was rarely unemployed as music was used to underscore the dialogue, and at times I found myself yearning for a mute button.
And boy is it heavy going. After a first half of 80 minutes, I was ready for the light relief of the interval, the bar and the latest developments in the General Election.
Truth be told, opening night was a bit of a horror show for the backstage crew as a white curtain displayed its own Jekyll and Hyde characteristics, on several occasions getting snagged and threatening to pull down part of the scenery. The appearance of a stage hand grappling with the curtain before the conclusion of the big number between Jekyll and Hyde was unfortunate.
Interestingly, director David James chose to have one actor playing Jekyll and another playing Hyde, which is not uncommon in productions of the musical. This presented challenges in the transformation scenes, which, on the whole, worked well.
But while Darrell Williams was a natural fit as nice guy Dr Henry Jekyll, James Jefferies failed to convince as the demonic madman Mr Edward Hyde. Having seen Darrell play the sinister Jud Fry in last year's Oklahoma!, I would have liked to have seen him given the dual role of the eponymous protagonists. He proved on Monday that he is worthy of leading a cast.
I am contractually obliged to rave about the gorgeous Alex Outlaw, who, as Jekyll's fiancee Emma Carew, was as easy as ever on the ear and the eye, and who showed at the conclusion of the wedding scene that she can act as well as she can sing. BSMTC is blessed to have such a natural talent.
Making her BSMTC debut, Lucy Powell was equally impressive as Lucy Harris, one of the working girls at the Red Rat pub-brothel who makes the fatal mistake of falling for Jekyll. She brought an endearing vulnerability to the role which made the audience care for her fate.
Charlotte Pritchard as Lady Beconsfield and BSMTC president Alison Mitchell as Nellie caught the eye, and Daniel Abbott and Mike Sykes were reliably solid as Jekyll's lawyer friend John Utterson and prospective father-in-law Sir Danvers Carew respectively.
As ever with BSMTC shows, the costumes and set design were spot on, evoking the grim reality of Victorian London, and the smoke machine was put to effective use.
The scenes in the Red Rat were the highlight, where the lighting was used to good effect with the dancing girls' sexy red and black outfits; indeed, these scenes gave the cast members licence to be raunchy in a way that Rodgers and Hammerstein do not afford, enhanced by Elsa Springham's choreography, which was a notable feature.
Jekyll & Hyde is not a musical I'll be revisiting. But it's a measure of the calibre of BSMTC that they made a decent fist of the show. A triumph of good over evil, one might say.