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San Francisco by Richard Connema

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Jekyll & Hyde at the Willows


I am not a Jekkie fan. I have never loved the relentless score of interchangeable pop songs. I first saw it in New York in 1998. It was the first night of a ten day theater tour. After watching the musical, I said to my companion, "it canít get any worse and everything we see from tonight will have to be uphill". We even saw Wildhorn's other musical, The Scarlet Pimpernel, and I found a bit better. The only saving graces I found for the original Jekyll ... were the voices of Robert Cuccioli, Linda Eder and Christiane Noll.

When it was announced that a touring company was coming to San Francisco in August 1999, I really had no desire go. However, a fellow forum member's report of the touring company gave me the incentive to sit through it again.

I found the touring production tighter and more compact then the Broadway show. It had a better flow (and finally they had cut that silly umbrella scene). Also the chorus was cut to a much preferred size, and the show became more personal. The musical was still a homage to those old, dreadfully over the top, black and white British horror films.

When the Willows Theatre announced that they would be the first regional company to present Jekyll & Hyde, I had to see it out of loyalty to the company. I was informed this was yet another version of the Wildhorn musical, and this would be the basis of future regional productions in the United States.

We saw the promisingly chilly start with Dr. Jekyll, played by New York actor Simon Relph, agonizing over the madness and death of his father, and vowing to separate the wretched soul from a good man. There is a change in the opening of this production. Amid thunder and lightning, a man lies on a gurney in the center of the stage. At the height of the storm, the old man suddenly rises from the bed, screams, and "dies". Lights go out and then Jekyll appears singing "Lost in the Darkness" followed by, "I Need to Know".

The musical started to drag with the introduction of Emma Carew, played by Maggie Gish. One of the best numbers in the show is the excellent "Facade". The chorus is admirable and the lyrics contain a great deal of word play. "Facade" pops up in three scenes in the first act. I guess you just canít keep a good song down. Of course, Jekyll's big number, "This Is The Moment," comes in the first act. This song has been played in every ice-show since the song first came out. It was once an enchanting pop song.

A song that was in neither the original nor the touring production, "Girls of the Night," sung engagingly by Lucy and "the girls," is a gritty and sultry number worthy of a Kurt Weill opera. It is very effective. Lucy also has two lovely solos, "Sympathy, Tenderness," and "Someone Like You."

The opening of the second act, the rousing number, "Murder, Murder," is sung once again by the chorus. Stage direction by Andrew Holtz is taut and beautifully choreographed. Once again, this was a outstanding chorus.

Simon Relph makes an excellent Dr. Jekyll and a great Mr. Hyde. He brings vocal power and strong stage presence to the role with his passionate intense acting. I liked his performance better then Chuck Wagner's in the touring production.

Megan Ross is marvelous as Lucy Harris. Rossís confident voice reflects her characterís edge. Her solo numbers, "Someone Like You" and "Once Upon a Dream," are standout performances. Also in the second act she is paired with Maggie Gish as Emma to sing "In His Eyes". These two women are equal in tone and power, a good image of oneness with each other. Megan's accent reminds me of the British actress, Susan Hampshire.

The sets are top drawer. There is one major two tier set with doors leading to various places and a 19th Century London drop background. The set rotates to display an impressive laboratory for Dr. Jekyll. It sparkles with colored liquids in glass flasks and electrical lightning patterns in glass jars. A very effective piece of theater craft.

At present Jekyll & Hyde is playing in just two places in the world: Bremen, Germany, and Concord, California. For a regional production, this is a first rate presentation.

Jekyll & Hyde runs until March 17th, at: The Willows Theatre, Concord California. Tickets are $30 general admission, with student, senior and Wednesday matinee and other discounts. Call 925-798-1300, or visit www.Willows Theatre.Org.


Cheers - and be sure to check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area


- Richard Connema



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