A REVIEW BY ACHILLES FEELS
When I walked up to the Spotlighters box office on last’s Saturday’s particularly blustery January evening, Managing Artistic Director Fuzz Roark said to me: “There’s so much music in this show! Barely any book. You’ll love it.” And you know what? He was right.
I’ve seen quite the gamut produced at Spotlighter’s so you can believe me when I say that Jekyll & Hyde, The Musical totally kicked ass. Fuzz packs the action into his quaint 12’ x 12’ stage. I love it. He rounds up a team of talent and says, “Watch out fo’ her elbows!”. I love that too, it kinda works sometimes and when it doesn’t they make it work. You could stick to show-after-show-after-show with only two or three actors, but where’s the fun in that? Where’s the diversity? Fuck that shit, they put twenty-one characters on stage for Jekyll (not including “the ensemble”) and they rock it. #FearlessTheatre
J&H is one of those shows you kinda approach like: “Should this be a musical? It’s not really that happy!”. It’s got some serious undercurrents that are surprisingly relevant to everyday life in any metropolitan setting, even here in 2015. Originally set in London with a Dickensian feeling, this story rests on commonplace life-drama. If you are breaking down the plot elements and associating them with more contemporary analogies; we see a man struggling with drug abuse, rage, suppressed emotion, and…well… homicide. Sounds like fun. #I’mThere
The story starts with Jekyll (Ryan Wagner). He’s got this great idea that if you were to remove anger and rage from a person’s makeup, we’d have peace on earth and humanity would be smoking pot and brother-hugging all the time, so to speak, (and something tells me that he’s probably right.) Unfortunately, the backbone of the time’s society, headed up the Bishop of Basingstoke (Michael Blum), a pompous ol’ priest with a penchant for pedifelia, doesn’t really think that experiments with chemicals and human emotions are ethical. Honey, I’ll take a sweet tab of Valium any day to forget the woes of everyday mediocrity. The hospital’s board shuts that highly-progressive shit down and Jekyll is left to experiment on himself. Of course, because nothing could go wrong with this plan, the magical serum turns him into the beast he was never supposed to be.
Or was he?
The root of this show deals with the true earthly and primal emotions inside each of us as a human being. In Doug Wright’s play Quills (an adaptation of Marat/Sade) the Marquis de Sade says that there are four main things we as people share in common: “We eat, we shit, we fuck, we die.” These four cruxes of humanity parallel some of the guttural emotions that are J&H’s basic sentiments. We’re angry people (duh!), we love (unabashedly), we conspire (hell yeah), we consume (nom nom nom). This musical shows that, at our true nature, we have all parts of the world inside each of us. Jekyll struggles with his own grasp on anger, conflict, and honesty, and those emotions, while sometimes painted as shameful, make us compassionate and well-rounded people. Anyone who denies the fact that they get angry will find themselves exploding at the poor bag-boy at the grocery store, or crying over a bucket of wings and a Nora Ephron movie. #OwnYourFeelingsPeople
This struggle with the darker parts of his own humanity causes the good doctor’s alter(ed)-ego, Hyde, to ravage and corrupt the town with murder, rape, and public humiliation. Well, the town’s already corrupt with horrible people pretending to be fabulous. It’s a brilliant take on today’s concept of “sit quiet and conform or else.“ During Mr. Hyde’s tirades of terror, he befriends prostitute Lucy Harris (Renata Marie Hammond), murders most of the board members who disprove his experimentation, and exposes some of the scandals of the town’s high-class society. I get it. Who hasn’t wanted to slice the throat of the person wearing a fur who just cut them off on I-83? The story comes full circle, with a bit of a shocking (and quite abrupt) ending which I won’t spoil here. Overall, a predictable, centuries old plot-line, but not without its twists and intrigues.
Okay. Listen up you musical theatre queens. I know you’re out there lighting candles on your altars to Kristin Chenoweth, so you get me when I say: if you’re producing a musical, that cast had better be able to sing. You don’t do Shakespeare if you have no clue what “What light beyond yonder fucking window breaks-” means. Director Roark and Musical Director Michael Tan picked an exceptional cast to sing-out this story. Tan whipped those voices into shape and all was well in the musical theatre world. Overall the cast and orchestra (Greg Bell, William Georg, and Mr. Tan himself) truly did amazing work. The cast’s three main solo-holders: Wagner, Patricia Hengen playing Jekyll’s poor fiance, Emma, and Hammond’s Lucy completely ripped it apart. When Wagner and Hengen were on stage singing, I was giving people in the audience the stink-eye for talking. You hush your mouth when these two fabulously well-rounded performers bestow upon you their fabulous rock-operatic tones. Hengen’s voice, while at first was just a hair shaky, found it’s footing…right into my happy-face. Hammond’s brass was amazeballs. These three actors really carried the entire, well-performed, cast. Having never seen this show before, songs that really soared were: “Take Me As I Am,” “London Street,” “Sympathy, Tenderness,” and “Someone Like You.” Songs that could use a little finessing were “Bring on the Men,” “Facade,” (all 3 versions), and “Alive.“ Other standouts were Christopher Anakyn Burns as manservant Poole, and Jim Baxter as Sir Danvers Carew. Some of the accents (Dialects by Claire Sherman) were off, a bit comically so, but totally forgivable. Actors, you actually have to do what the dialect coach tells you to do – they’re there for a reason! Lighting by duo Allison Ramer and Justin Thilllman was effective. When I entered the theatre Fuzz told me that his LD’s wrote over 200 lighting cues for this show (honey, that’s nothing, you should see the 16k cues in Broadway’s Spiderman) and, well, it worked, was not distracting, and I could see the performance. Happy Mr. Feels! Blocking and choreography (Fuzz Roark and Ruta Douglas Smith) was non-motivated but also not too busy. Take a quick note: backs to the actors, not the audience, folks. I saw way too much ass in this show (but it was nice ass!). Set (design by Alan Zemla), while minimal, accurately depicted the required trappings. P.S. – Alan, I want that fold-out bar (bar built by Fuzz Roark)! Costumes (design by Laura Nicholson) were a bit of a mish-mash of period, leather and lace, and genderqueer. We could really do with a better wedding dress for Ms. Emma too. I was confused as to why some of the prostitutes were dressed in my grandmother’s old curtains.
I want those back, by the way.
The Bottom Line: Spotlighter’s has been bringing the rain recently. I’m proud of Fuzz Roark and the work he and Michael Tan have done on Jekyll & Hyde. When it comes to musicals, your actors better be able to sang-that-shit and this one did. The cast and orchestra rocked! See Ryan Wagner play two distinct characters, without so much as a costume change as a crutch! Listen as Renata Hammond makes you feel every ounce of her turmoil as a troubled prostitute! Get excited when the entire cast shakes the stage when they jump up and down in ensemble numbers! I’ve never seen this show before and I had an absolute blast. I’d go again!
Running at Spotlighters until February 8th
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