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Regional Reviews: Phoenix

Jekyll & Hyde
Arizona Regional Theatre
Review by Gil Benbrook | Season Schedule

Also see Gil's reviews of Powerhouse: The Tesla Musical, Native Gardens and Rabbit Hole


Jackie Brecker and Matravius Avent
Photo Courtesy of JALT Media
Loosely based on the gothic novella "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" by Robert Louis Stevenson, the musical Jekyll & Hyde is full of intrigue, romance, and plenty of soaring pop ballads. Arizona Regional Theatre, one of the newest theatre companies in Phoenix, recently opened their premiere season with a fairly solid production of this operatic show featuring a trio of excellent actors in the lead roles.

The plot follows the kind and considerate Dr. Henry Jekyll, who is a proponent of the belief that every man has an inherit good and evil side. In his laboratory, Jekyll has come up with a serum that he believes will separate the two sides and, in doing so, cure mental illness. However, he needs backing from the Board of Governors of St. Jude's Hospital to be able to test his theory, yet they fail to give their support. So, since Jekyll is anxious to prove his hypothesis, he tests his serum on himself and thus unleashes Mr. Hyde, the evil and deadly monster who goes about seeking revenge for those who have done him, or Jekyll, wrong.

The musical follows the main plot of Stevenson's book, though adds in many additional characters, plot elements, and even a romantic triangle for the title characters, to provide some intrigue and drama. Leslie Bricusse's book is fast paced and easy to follow and Frank Wildhorn's music features numerous soaring ballads, paired with some good lyrics from Bricusse. However, while Wildhorn's score has much to admire, the plot is very simplistic, with only a limited amount of drama and there are also many narrative moments where one of Jekyll's closest friends tells us about events that happened that would have been much better for us to see them staged rather than simply told about. Also, the abrupt ending is a bit of a downer and the show itself doesn't provide much more insight into the theme of good versus evil that we haven't already seen in countless other TV shows and movies. Fortunately, Wildhorn knows how to write pop ballads and this show has about a half dozen memorable ones that stick in your head for days.

You can't fault Arizona Regional Theatre for the shortcomings in the musical, so it was nice to see that the leads and several of the supporting roles in their production were played by actors who threw themselves into their parts. With a shift in his body language and a deepening of his voice, Matravius Avent did a very good job distinguishing between both Dr. Henry Jekyll and Mr. Edward Hyde. Jackie Brecker brought a good sense of purity and vitality to the part of Lucy Harris, the prostitute with a heart of gold who finds herself drawn to both sides of Jekyll. As Jekyll's fiancée Emma Carew, Elizabeth Grace projected both innocence, care and charm.

In supporting roles, Zac Bushman, as Jekyll's friend, and Nicholas Hambruch, as one of his foes, created distinguished characters with singing voices that soared. Also, Bill Bennett was quite touching as Emma's father.

Under Lincoln Wright's music direction, all of the leads navigated their way around Wildhorn's rangy score well, which requires an ability to reach some sustained high notes. While the part of Lucy may get the best ballads, and Brecker did an exceptional job with both "A New Life" and "Someone Like You," the duets "Take Me as I Am," "In His Eyes" and "Mysterious Game" were quite effective in providing the three leads with the chance to show their excellent vocal abilities. Also, Avent's solo "Confrontation" was well sung and staged, with a heightened sense of theatricality from Jordan Daniels' effective shifting lighting design.

Kayla Etheridge's direction was clean and direct, with the main and supporting cast creating distinguishable characters. My only slight quibble was the staging of one of the murders, where one of Hyde's victims was forced to lay "dead" on a second story walkway for what seemed like an eternity, which constantly drew my eyes away from where they should have been for the remainder of that scene. While a couple of the scene changes were also slightly prolonged, Cheryl Briley's evocative set design placed the locations for Jekyll's laboratory and Lucy's bedroom on the sides of the stage, which helped tighten up the pace of the shifts to those locales.

While the simplicity of the story of Jekyll & Hyde may be lacking in its drama and charm when compared to other gothic musicals like The Phantom of the Opera or the epic scope of another musical based on a novel like Les Misérables, it still makes for a fun journey with interesting characters. Arizona Regional Theatre's production was well cast and directed and made for a solid debut from this new theatre company.

The Arizona Regional Theatre's Jekyll & Hyde played from September 28th through October 7th, 2018, at the Third Street Theatre, Phoenix Center for the Arts, 1202 N. Third Street, downtown Phoenix AZ. Information and tickets for their upcoming productions are available at www.arizonaregionaltheatre.org or by phone at 602.698.8668

Conceived for the Stage by Frank Wildhorn and Steve Cuden
Book and Lyrics by Leslie Bricusse
Music by Frank Wildhorn
Based on the story by Robert Louis Stevenson
Director: Kayla Etheridge
Music Director: Lincoln Wright
Choreographer: Kimberly Sheperd
Scenic Designer: Cheryl Briley
Lighting Designer: Jordan Daniels
Wigs: Aaron Ford
Sound Design: Katie Lambert

Cast:
Dr. Henry Jekyll/Edward Hyde: Matravius Avent
Lucy Harris: Jackie Brecker
Emma Carew: Elizabeth Grace
Gabriel John Utterson: Zac Bushman
Sir Danvers Carew: Bill Bennett
Simon Stride: Nicholas Hambruch
Lady Beaconsfield/Nellie: Katie Lambert
Bishop of Basingstoke: Robert Wilkinson
General Lord Glossop: Ryan Malikowski
Sir Archibald Props/Ensemble: Patrick McMullen
Lord Savage/Ensemble: Nicholas Gearing
Poole: Dan Stroud
Spider/Ensemble: Chris Corn
Ensemble: Shelby Jensen Baldwin, Alexa Maez, Ashley Riecken, Grace Napoletano, Casey Karapetian, Alicia Ferrin, Julian Pena, Deserae McCall


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