Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe
Jekyll & Hyde
The original theme was of outward piety masking inward perversity, that hypocrisy of the Victorian era too familiar in our own, brought out in this play by a musical theme called "Facade," repeated throughout. Directed by Robb Anthony Sisneros, the Musical Theatre Southwest production stays true to that theme with an Upstairs, Downstairs set design and moody lighting that lets us know when we're in the heights or the gutter.
Dr. Jekyll's (Colin Burdge) two romantic conquests also leave us in no doubt, written as they are based on virgin/whore templates. Emma Carew (Daniela Deuel) is Jekyll's fiancee, daughter of his upper-class champion Sir Danvers Carew (Rick Baldwin). Emma is a brunette, so we know she's the good girl who believes in him and loves him unconditionally. Lucy Harris (Courtney Awe) is the blonde bad girl, a dancer and prostitute at the Red Rat Club who falls in love with Jekyll because he is kind to her. Both women have the acting and singing chops, and the looks, to be credible in their roles. Awe's dancing and lengthy time on stage add to the degree of difficulty of her role, and she rises to it admirably.
The central role, of course, is Dr. Henry Jekyll/Mr. Edward Hyde, and Burdge amazes as someone who has the talent and energy to support both roles using only his voice and physicality to transform himself from one to the other and back again. He looks and acts the part, and his singing voice, as always, is strong and steady. The small onstage orchestra led by conductor Cheryl Sharps is a wonderful addition to this serious musical play, and elevates the performance to the level of its subject matter.
There are some real standouts among the chorus and speaking/singing characters. Austin Embree has an important role as John Utterson, the narrator of the tale and Jekyll's caring companion who suffers because of what is happening to his friend. Bridget Kelly as Nellie, the madame of the Red Rat, somehow conveys empathy for her girls in the very brief bits she is given. Shadow Dancers Trey Caperton and Xavier Visage convey an entire story through their movements. And each loathsome person on the hospital board of directors makes his or her character indelible.
I always have quibbles and here they are: the singers have no bits of business to occupy them while they were waiting to sing. Those few seconds of watching them stand there with nothing to do took me right out of the story. Opening night glitches are understandable, but the sound system problems should be worked out during tech week. Utterson's narration, for instance, was undermined by a nonworking personal mic. This "frame" is a crucial part of the plot in the book, generating empathy for Jekyll and a sense of inevitability and therefore tragedy. I missed that driving emotion on stage.
MTS has ironed out these glitches, I am sure. This is a production with a straightforward theme yet many moving parts, all offering a spooky immersion in Old London. Happy Halloween!
Jekyll & Hyde, through October 22, 2017, for Musical Theatre Southwest at the African-American Performing Arts Center, Expo New Mexico, 310 San Pedro Dr. NE, Albuquerque NM. For tickets and information, call 505-265-9119 or visit musicaltheatresw.com.