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Chicago by John Olson

Jekyll and Hyde
Bohemian Theatre Ensemble

Also see John's review of The Lady with All the Answers

Courtney Crouse
Courtney Crouse
Last fall, in reviewing Bailiwick Repertory's production of bare, I noted how Courtney Crouse, a relatively recent arrival to the Chicago theater scene might have been better cast as one of the male leads. Well, as he plays the title characters in Bohemian's Jekyll and Hyde - I guess you could say he has two leads. Those who saw bare and would have liked to hear more of his singing can get a full sampling of Mr. Crouse's vocal talents in this show. He has tons of singing to do – not only the anthemic "This is the Moment," and the duet "Take Me as I Am," but monologues and dramatic scenes set to music as well. His voice is perfectly suited to the Frank Wildhorn/Leslie Bricusse pop power ballads and confirms last fall's first impression that he's a major addition to Chicago's non-Equity musical theater talent pool.

Turning to a consideration of Crouse's acting in this show, you might think you're witnessing two performers as different as, well, Jekyll and Hyde. He has a lot of fun with Edward Hyde, the evil alter ego of scientist Dr. Jekyll, creating a homicidal maniac through a hunched posture, a gravelly deep voice and a ripped open shirt. Crouse takes the character just far enough to make him a juicy villain and stops just sort of camp. His Jekyll, though, is understated to a fault. Not only is the character bland, but Crouse fails to communicate Jekyll's compulsive drive to complete the research which leads him chemically separate the good and evil sides of human nature. He lacks the urgency which would earn the emotions of "I Need to Know" and "This is the Moment." Fortunately, Bricusse's libretto pretty much leaves Jekyll behind after his initial transformation and we're free to enjoy Crouse's delicious villain as well as his top-notch vocalizing.

Crouse is matched by two fine female leads. Laura McClain handles the vocals of Jekyll's fiancée Emma Carew quite capably. As Lucy, the role first played and sung by Linda Eder, Monica Szaflik's vocals are less strong than McClain's, but Ms. Szaflik displays the best acting of the cast. The character's vulnerability and fear in the face of real and anticipated cruelties are palpable and more than a little disturbing. If you're one of the many fans of this piece, you'll enjoy Bohemian's production for its principals delivering the goods. The pop-influenced songs in Jekyll and Hyde made the show a hit through recordings long before its nearly four-year Broadway run. The leads are supported by strong vocals from the ensemble and accompanied by a four-piece orchestra of piano, strings and woodwinds, which is conducted by Musical Director Nick Sula nd has a lushness not usually heard from pit orchestras of that size. Director Stephen M. Genovese and choreographer Brenda Didier add an effective touch, using the ensemble to move expressionistically to depict the characters' emotions.

It's a good looking production as well. There's a versatile unit set designed by John Zuiker that serves as a street façade as well as interior walls. Zuiker's vision of Jekyll's laboratory, though, unfortunately recalls the campiness of a low-budget Frankenstein. The Victorian costumes designed by Michelle Julazadeh effectively establish the time and the mood of the piece.

All that said, Jekyll and Hyde is still a problematic piece. The book fails to provide much of a plot arc – little happens until Jekyll takes his potion and then he just kills a lot of people until he comes to his inevitable end. The hit songs, strong enough on their own outside the show, don't really seem to belong in 19th century London, and the book doesn't earn the emotions the songs express. If you're a fan, though, this will be a satisfying production and, if you're new to the piece, BoHo's production will be a worthy introduction.

Jekyll and Hyde will be performed Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 4 p.m. and Sundays at 6 p.m. through Sunday, July 20th at Theatre Building Chicago, 1225 W. Belmont. For tickets, call Theatre Building Chicago at773-327-5252 or go online to www.theatrebuildingchicago.org. Courtney Crouse


Photo: Brandon Dahlquist

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-- John Olson



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