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Stage: Jekyll & Hyde the Musical
Talent abounds in Salisbury and Lee St. Theatre develops more ways to frighten us this Halloween season
At Lee St Theatre in Salisbury, Jekyll & Hyde the Musical is getting a classic treatment. Thanks to arresting lighting effects, a supporting ensemble as tight as a drum, and spectacular casting in the principal roles, Jekyll & Hyde is right on time for Halloween.
This show wastes no time getting to the heart of Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1886 tale of a scientist’s descent into irrevocable monstrosity. Playwrights Steve Cuden, Frank Wildhorne, and Leslie Bricusse reenvisioned this horror classic in the tradition of Andrew Lloyd Webber. First mounted in 1990 and nominated for four Tony Awards, Jekyll & Hyde is thick with familiar melodrama and soaring pop melodies. The maudlin earnestness of this era of musical theater lends a more appropriate tone than one might imagine, alternately softening and sharpening the sinister tale at the center.
We find Dr. Henry Jekyll, played by Matty Montes, on the cusp of two big changes in his life – his wedding to Emma Carew, played by Christie Lee Wolf, is fast approaching, and he is petitioning the Board of Governors at St. Jude’s Hospital to support his ongoing research. Dr. Jekyll has developed a serum which will separate and isolate man’s good nature from its darker side, with the noble purpose of eliminating malice and violence everywhere, for good. When he is denied funding by the board members (who are extremely snide), he decides that it is time to prove them wrong once and for all.
From the moment he is on stage, Montes’s gentle vocalizations and blemishless, crestfallen countenance deliver a Dr. Henry Jekyll burdened with passion and purpose. He has the love both of his fiancée and his closest friend John Utterson, played with unflagging sincerity by Andrew Monroe. But genius is a lonely place, and Montes’s Jekyll is torn between nurturing the relationships in his life and a drive to see his research yield results. Montes’s near whispering quietude pushes beautifully into a measured, mellow tenor, only seeming out of his control when Jekyll loses his in the crescendo of “Transformation.” No matter, because in his performance of “Alive,” the first song for Edward Hyde, Montes absolutely eats it up.
There is no surprise makeup application or costume change. As Montes alternates back and forth between Jekyll and Hyde, it is a monstrous hunch, black shining locks thrown in front of the actor’s face, and a bone-chilling vocal change that show the audience he has become the monster. He makes great use of his cane, rapping it percussively on the stage like a gunshot to show the violence he is capable of. Montes relishes the horror.
As the figure at its center, Montes draws you in and brings this world to life. And Christie Lee Wolf, in the role of Jekyll’s fiancée, performs with such a powerhouse soprano and deeply honest expressiveness that one wonders how Lee Street is lucky enough to have her in its casting pool. Andrew Monroe is an emotional force, manifesting loyalty and affection for Jekyll and giving the audience an easy entry point to care for the afflicted scientist.
The show is stolen from them, however. With nothing to lose, Lucy from the Red Rat, played by Lindsey Litka-Montes, has some of the biggest numbers in the show, “Somone Like You” and “In His Eyes” among them. Litka-Montes brings breathtaking control to vocal character and unfettered ease to each new tier of the dramatic climaxes in her solos. Her character moves about the London underbelly with a devil-may-care daring that rankles London society. While Utterson symbolizes an unconditional love for those in crisis, Lucy represents a world ready to devour new science yet afraid it may devour them. Litka-Montes occupies this space naturally. In her first meeting with Hyde, she is apprehensive but naive to the true danger as he approaches her. She delicately walks the line between the invitation of a thrill and an overpowering fear, the air electric right up until the lights slam to black.
The combat choreography in Jekyll & Hyde at Lee Street deserves a special nod. Taking a page from special effects in film, the murders on stage drop into sudden choreographed slow-motion. Carefully coordinated with the action on stage, bright bursts of strobe lights accompany every change to the speed of time, and an oscilloscopic effect overlays each fatal blow. Stylistically jarring, this effect is ultimately period- and piece-appropriate, as it recalls both the advent of film technology and the pervasive fear of scientific leaps forward which underpin this play’s source material. It is a practical substitute for stage violence performed in real time, and all the more horrific.
Rod Oden’s open set represents Jekyll’s home and laboratory, the town square, and other locations. The central space is always flanked by a pair of imposing two-story walls, divided into frames by gothic archways on the second floor and support beams on the first. Throughout the performance, like Hogwartsian portraits, these framed spaces are filled by characters passing judgment on Jekyll, decrying the state of modern London society, or gossipping about the recent spate of murders.
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The ensemble themselves remind us how important a dedicated supporting cast is to the believability of a world like that in Jekyll & Hyde. Carefully choreographed by Lee St. Theatre veteran David T. Loudermilk, and in perfect lock-step with one another, the ensemble, which includes many Catawba College theater students, helps paint a rich picture of a gothic London rife with gossip, sin, and fear.
Lee Street Theatre once again demonstrates their penchant for the thrilling and the bone-chilling with a perfect Halloween offering in Jekyll & Hyde the Musical. The final week of performances were sold out, but they have just added a show this Wednesday, October 25.