Jekyll & Hyde at Playhouse

Ryan Faino (top) as Edward Hyde and Joshua Stanko as
Dr. Henry Jekyll

Launching another ambitious production for this season, the Pittsburgh Playhouse Conservatory Company (Point Park College Conservatory of Performing Arts undergraduate theatre company) presents the dark Jekyll & Hyde.

Macabre and creepy and perfectly timed for the Halloween season, Leslie Bricusse (book/lyrics) and Frank Wildhorn's (music) musical is based on the Robert Louis Stevenson classic novella. After a three and a half year run on Broadway (four Tony Award nominations), this show has become a popular production for regional theatres across the country, as well as around the world. The standard presentation uses one actor for both Dr. Jekyll and his "alternate personality" Mr. Hyde, but in the Playhouse production, two actors are used. This offers a new twist for the actors as well as the director.

The plot of Jekyll & Hyde is set in late 19th century London and follows the well known story of Dr. Jekyll, who is interested in exploring the hidden recesses of the human mind, and his study of the mysteries of good and evil present in the human psyche. His interest is drawn from his obsession with freeing his father from the bars of mental illness. Jekyll becomes his own guinea pig, and his evil side emerges in the form of Mr. Hyde.

The set on the stage of the Playhouse's Rockwell Theater is functional and representational for this show. Featuring two levels (designed by Andrew Deppen) of windows/doors and a catwalk for access to the upper level, the set changes atmosphere with the excellent lighting of Lloyd Sobel, effective from in front of as well as behind the semi-transparent windows.

Overall, the cast of young actors does a tremendous job. They are dedicated performers with impressive singing voices, and all are effective at projecting characters who are older than themselves. Helpful is the well done makeup and costuming (though the wealthy women at the engagement party should be wearing some jewelry with their beautiful gowns).

Because, by script, characters in the show don't recognize Hyde as Jekyll, the door is open for the use of two different actors. It also offers a chance to avoid what can become almost comical when one actor is switching quickly between Jekyll and Hyde. The challenge of staging this show with two actors in the title role(s) has been met by several techniques. Often both actors are on stage at the same time. Frequently, especially during the transformation of Jekyll to Hyde, the actors mirror their movements, often while facing each other, and this works quite well, both as a technique and by the work of actors Joshua Stanko (Jekyll) and Ryan Faino (Hyde). At other times, Jekyll or Hyde lingers in the shadows, often on the catwalk, as the other character performs downstage. This works less well, mostly because of the logic one must deal with when thinking of Jekyll and Hyde as two forms of the same man, but symbolically it makes sense.

An additional method of taking care of the "extra" actor is accomplished by the addition in this production of a group of shrouded figures who often lurk in the shadows and gather on stage with a large, dark "sheet" which they use to hide the actor as they whisk him offstage. The presence of this group is a bit out of place in the show, but the technique is carried out well. It is used more effectively when removing the bodies of Hyde's victims during scene transitions. Even more satisfying is the use of quick blackouts to switch Jekyll and Hyde - this is well designed and well accomplished. Credit goes to Sobel's lighting for this successful trick.

Joshua Stanko is a fine Dr. Jekyll, projecting the frustrations and desperation of the doctor as he seeks to explore the dark recesses of the human mind. He has a natural youthful appearance, but his serious portrayal and strong voice bring about a more mature presence. Ryan Faino is a maniacal Mr. Hyde, very outwardly evil and dangerous. The two actors sing often sing in unison, or in counterpoint as they share lyrics, and Stanko and Faino work well together.

The two main female characters are Jekyll's fiancee Emma Carew (Michelle Shuttleworth) and Lucy Harris (Meredith Snyder), the actress/prostitute and eventual interest of both Jekyll and Hyde. Shuttleworth displays an appropriately sweet, though substantial, singing voice as she portrays the upper class, forgiving Emma. Snyder is a fireball of a performer, and her pop style singing voice fits Wildhorn's style of music.

The supporting characters and ensemble are solid. Special mention should be made of the impressive accents used quite consistently by this young group of actors (ensemble member Tiffany Green is credited as Dialect Coach).

As also seen recently with the Conservatory's production of Tom Stoppard's Arcadia, this Point Park theatre company is well prepared for a challenging and diverse season of productions. Up next is Red, a world premiere musical based on the Rosenberg trials, written by 2003 Point Park grad Marcus Stevens and Brian Lowdermilk, followed by City of Angels, Marat-Sade, and Two Gentlemen of Verona.

Jekyll & Hyde, the Musical. Conceived for the stage by Steve Cuden and Frank Wildorn. Book and Lyrics by Leslie Bricusse. Music by Frank Wildhorn. Orchestrations by Kim Scharnberg. Arrangements by Jason Howland. Directed by jack Allison. Musical Director David F. Pressau. Musical Staging by Margo Sappington. Scenic Designer Andrew Deppen. Costume Designer Don DiFonso. Lighting Designer Lloyd Sobel. Student TD Seth Werner.

Cast: Matthew Gary Alexander, Laura Anderson, Krista Antonacci, Lindsay Carothers, Annie Claffey, Case Dillard, Amanda Eppinger, Ryan Faino, Michael R. Fratz, Alexa Glover, Tiffany Green, Jessica Marie Hortert, Katie Kirchner, Matt Lamb, Heather Leary, Alex Levy, Lisa Laura Lucci, Anna Malinoski, Lenya M. McCarthy, Kelly Marie McKenna, Geoffrey Mergele, Travis Moser, Caitlin Newman, Lauren Nickler, Betsy Padamonsky, Bridgette Polewski, Bradley Wade Renner, Samantha Shafer, Michelle Shuttleworth, Shawn A. Smith, Meredith Snyder, Joshua Stanko, Jacinda Rose Swinehart, Vincent E. Ventura, Stephen Winterhalter, Ryan Wood.

Photo: Lighthouse Photography

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-- Ann Miner

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