Sunday, October 2, 2016

Jekyll & Hyde, the musical—Stumptown Stages—downtown Portland

Once Upon a…Nightmare!

This dark musical, based on the classic story by Robert Louis Stevenson, is written by Leslie Bricusse and music by Frank Wildhorn.  It is directed by Jon Kretzu, music direction by Mak Kastelic and choreography by Beth Raimer, and plays at their space in the Brunish Theatre at 1111 SW Broadway (4th floor) through October 16th.  For more information, go to their site at www.stumptownstages.org or call 800-273-1530 for tickets.

It is said that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.  Enter Dr. Henry Jekyll (Kirk Mouser, Artistic Director for Stumptown), in the London of the late 1800’s (breeding ground also for Jack the Ripper and Sherlock Holmes) offering to rid the world of evil.  But, like nuclear power, which can generate vast quantities of power to homes (or make bombs), what do you do with the deadly waste?  Something Jekyll doesn’t think about when performing his experiments.  What does one do with the Evil or Waste once it’s separated?  A grand plot for a thriller!

Jekyll/Hyde has been played in films by many great actors, including John Barrymore (Silent), Spencer Tracy, Jack Palance (and Mouser), who simply transformed their walk/posture and/or voice to emulate the Hyde side, relying on their acting to do the rest (by far the most difficult).  Or, like Fredric March, who is transformed into a beastly being.  Or, also interesting, Jerry Lewis, who pictures Hyde as a handsome man-about-town, Buddy Love (well-acted, too), or even Tim Daly, who has his Mrs. Hyde.  Open to interpretation, of course, but keep in mind, it is still Jekyll who unleashes his evil side upon the world.

It seems that Jekyll’s (Mouser) ideas of separating evil from our character would make the world a better place.  Only his lawyer, the steadfast, Utterson (Jess Ford), his fiancé, ever-faithful, Emma (Katie Harman) and her understanding father, Sir Danvers (Bob Sterry), seem to support him.  The rest of the Board of Governors and Society’s elite, reject him and his theories.  And so he resorts to seeking the underbelly of society to find solace.  There he meets Lucy (Kerry Ann Moriarty), the hooker with the heart of gold who aspires to something better.

And so, without a subject to experiment on, he does the inevitable (you guessed it) he uses himself as the guinea pig, and so diabolical, Mr. Hyde, is born.  This, of course doesn’t bode well for all those that opposed him and, unfortunately, for those that love him as well.  To see the outcome you will, of course, have to see the show for yourself.  An added element is that it also plays like an opera where much of the dialogue is sung, which is fitting for a tragedy such as this.

The staging is sparse, using only essential pieces of furniture/props to keep the story moving.  The costumes (Raquel Calderon) are an essential part of the plot as they set the moods for the piece, especially the vibrant red dress worn by Emma.  And the tricky but essential lighting (Demetri Pavlatos) in the crucial confrontation scene between Jekyll and Hyde is amazing and quite effective.  Kastelic and his orchestra are fine with a tricky and exhausting score.  And Kretzu has done an amazing job of managing over 20 people on a small stage and having such exceptional voices for the leads and supporting cast.

The songs are quite expressive and further the plot.  My favorites were “Someone Like You,” “No One Knows Who I Am,” and “A New Life” (Lucy); “Once Upon A Dream” (Emma) and “In His Eyes” (w/Lucy) and “Take Me As I Am” (w/Jekyll); and “This Is The Moment” (Jekyll) as well as his aforementioned, confrontation scene.  Harman is quite engaging as Emma, avoiding the stereotype of the typical lady-in-distress and giving her some real backbone.

Moriarty is extraordinary as Lucy.  Her voice is outstanding and, like Harman, avoids the ruts of playing her as the typical bad-girl victim.  She lights up the stage every time she comes on and one wants to hold her and whisk her away to a better world.  She is new to the area and my vote would be to keep her around and let her shine, as she has an amazing voice and acting talent!

Mouser does so much by using only his acting talent to depict the extremes in these two sides of the same coin.  One genuinely feels for him, a good man trying to do right, but ignorant to the fact that evil must exist in the world so that we can define what is good.  Mouser also has a terrific voice and is a fine director, as well.  I hope we get to see more of him onstage!

I recommend this show.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.