Jekyll & Hyde
Pittsburgh CLO

Brynn O'Malley and Kevin Gray
The work of composer Frank Wildhorn tends to divide theatre fans. Many are enthralled by performances of his pop power ballads, while others find such music contemptible. Critics have not been kind, but Wildhorn continues to see his work presented on Broadway (sometimes with horrible results, both critically and at the box office, like his most recent shows Dracula and Wonderland). Jekyll & Hyde was quite successful with audiences during its nearly 3-year run on Broadway, though not so much with critics. Based on the classic novella "Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" by Robert Louis Stevenson, Wildhorn teamed with Leslie Bricusse (book and lyrics) for this macabre tale of good versus evil.

The Pittsburgh CLO is currently presenting a top-drawer production of the musical, directed by Robert Cuccioli (who was nominated for a 1997 Tony for playing the title role). It's easy to get caught up in the story of the doctor, driven by grief for his hopelessly mentally ill father, searching for the root of evil in man. More than a bit mad himself, Dr. Jekyll goes beyond theoretical research, wishing to use humans for experimentation, even when everyone turns their backs on him when he seeks support. To get in touch with his evil side, Jekyll uses himself as a test patient, injecting a chemical concoction that transforms him into a murderous monster who prowls London taking revenge on those who have wronged the doctor.

There are a lot of big plusses here, including James Noone's fine sets, the sumptuous costumes, and a superb orchestra (led by Frank Ostrowski), as well as delightful performances by the supporting cast and ensemble. Brynn O'Malley as Jekyll's fiancee Emma and Elizabeth Stanley as the prostitute who is abused by Hyde are simply tremendous, especially in their vocal performances. Most of the score is same-sounding music that evokes the gothic atmosphere in which the story is set, but several songs (those that have become cabaret and solo album staples) stand out, both in quality and in style. The women get most of this material, and they are highlights. The pairing of the two actresses on "In His Eyes" shows the strengths of both, and illuminates the characters. In the lead role is Kevin Gray, a popular performer known for his Phantom on Broadway and tours. Gray is committed to the role, and has little choice but to play angry from the start, because that's how it's written. Unfortunately, at the performance I attended, his voice was not at the level it should be, with an uneven tone, making his big song, "The Is the Moment," a big disappointment, especially on the final note. However, his "Confrontation," the song which features his two personalities fighting for control, was strong. Depending on the staging, the song can verge on the laughable, but director Cuccioli and Lighting Designer John McLain have found a way to depict this inner turmoil efficiently and sympathetically.

Fans of Jekyll & Hyde the musical will be very happy with this production, and those who may not have warmed up to the piece before may be surprised at how much there is to like. It's a very well done production of a show with a great story, and a score that is as divided in personality as its title character.

Jekyll & Hyde continues at the Benedum Center for Pittsburgh CLO through June 26. For performance and ticket information, visit

Photo: Matt Polk

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-- Ann Miner

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