Good and evil battle it out compellingly in the Players’ Jekyll & Hyde.
By Kay Kipling
Composer Frank Wildhorn has been wildly successful with musicals ranging from The Scarlet Pimpernel to The Civil War to one of his earlier hits, Jekyll & Hyde—successful with audiences, that is, if not always with critics (sound familiar, Andrew Lloyd Webber fans?) Some musical theater aficionados consider his melodies too predictable or pedestrian, his book partners too liberal or simplistic with adapting well-known works
But that needn’t concern anyone headed to the Players of Sarasota production of Jekyll & Hyde now onstage. Lovers of Jekyll & Hyde, the Musical (they’re called Jekkies) will thrill to it, and even those not in the Wildhorn fan club should be impressed with the high quality of the Players’ staging.
That includes very nearly everything here: the scenic design by Mathew Nitsch, which is both haunting in its evocation of Victorian London and smoothly adaptable for quick and numerous set changes; the costumes by Kaylene McCaw, which cover a convincing range of upper and lower-class garments, as well as some provocative showgirl wear; the lighting by Neal M. Kerr, appropriately spooky; the music direction by Rick Bogner, outstanding throughout; and the overall direction and choreography of Bob Trisolini, which pull out all the emotional stops in this adaptation of the classic Robert Louis Stevenson novel about a humanitarian doctor whose research into good and evil leads to tragic results.
And then there’s the cast. Trisolini was either extremely fortunate or extremely diligent in attracting some of the cream of the local crop of community theater actors and singers. That success extends not only to the leads (Steve and Dianne Dawson as Jekyll/Hyde and the doomed prostitute Lucy) but pretty much throughout the ranks. Players veteran Chris Caswell plays Jekyll’s loyal friend with satisfactory understatement, newcomer Charleene Closshey scores with her presence and vocals as Jekyll’s fiancée, Emma, and the crew of upper-crust murder victims here are a satisfying blend of physical types appropriate for the characters.
All that said, much credit must be given to the Dawsons, who have worked together on a number of the area’s best musical theater productions. Both continue to stretch their talents; they’re praiseworthy here in tandem on numbers like Dangerous Game and Alive as well as on solos, especially in their big numbers toward the end, as Lucy hopes for A New Life and Jekyll and alter ego Hyde face the final Confrontation. That climactic scene is a dramatic highlight, accomplishing so much with swift changes in lighting, physical posture and vocal quality.
So, any faults to be found here lie with the material itself, not with the production, which should be a hit for the Players. It continues onstage through Nov. 4; for ticket info call 365-2494 or go to the players.org.