William Adams, DMA

Robert Louis Stevenson first brought us the “Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde” in 1886. One of the foremost examples of gothic horror, it was initially published as a “penny dreadful.” Richard Mansfield and Thomas Russell Sullivan transformed Stevenson’s story into a stage drama which premiered in 1887. In their adaptation they added characters and introduced some of the romantic elements which have become mainstays of the story. It has gone on to be adapted for film and revised for the stage well over 100 times. In 1990, composer Frank Wildhorn, working with legendary lyricist and composer Leslie Bricusse and author Steve Cuden, brought forth the musical theater version. It debuted on Broadway in 1997 and ran until 2001 with more than 1500 performances.

This musical is intense. It demands a lot of the listener and even more from the performers. There are moments of grace and beauty, hope and longing, even heroic good intentions that are met with ferocity by moments of passion, lust, rage, and evil in its basest form. In some cases it requires great vocal athleticism and in many it requires strong physical presence and prowess. In others, it needs grace, simplicity, and purity. 

Jackson Lods threw himself completely into the dual role of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. His impressive tenor voice made light work of demanding music. He wisely avoided too many colorations of his voice for Hyde, relying instead on his physicality and lighting and sound effects (the latter were employed a little inconsistently) to bring that character to life. Madalyn Alexander created a delightfully aristocratic but genuine Emma Carew. The role calls for a more operatic soprano, to portray the sophistication of her station. Ms. Alexander’s voice is lyric, warm, and very expressive. Her stage presence and delivery were easy and natural. Madeline Core was impressive as Lucy Harris. In contrast to Emma Carew, Lucy’s character is unsophisticated and rough but with a gentle, sweet spirit that must shine through. Working as a dancer and prostitute in a burlesque, she longs for a better life. The tragedy of her character is in seeing her nearly realize her dream only to have everything taken away and meeting a bitter end. To contrast Emma musically, Lucy is expected to belt most of the time and it makes for a very demanding role. Ms. Core sang the role very well, showing impressive power and rich color. Her acting was excellent and she moved between the street-wise courtesan and the vulnerable girl trying to escape with ease. As Utterson, Jackson Griffin showed the strength of will of a man faced with the inevitability of his friend’s self-destruction and the realization of his helplessness to do anything for him. Mr. Griffin sang the role beautifully with a clear and colorful baritone.

Danica Jackson’s inventive direction, with new twists and nods to the older film adaptations, was engaging and clever. The singers were well prepared and coached and the orchestra played cleanly but with the appropriate vigor and passion all under the leadership of musical director Michael Santangelo. Jayme Mellema’s scenic design was beautiful with rich, vibrant colors and excellent contrasts between sharp lines in the scenery with the curved stage in Stewart Theater. Joshua Reeves’ light design was exceptional with deep, intense colors — especially the deep red associated with Hyde — and equally impressive contrasts between warmer stage-washes, pools of light, and stark shadows. Laura Parker’s costumes were elegant and beautifully crafted.

Congratulations to the University Theater, its staff, and the 123 students from 30 majors (none of which are Musical Theater or Vocal Performance) who were involved in realizing this excellent production.