Written by Jill Althouse-Wood
I have always had a thing for the Jekyll Hyde story. Classic tale of repression turned into madness. Here’s a secret: I considered changing the spelling of my first name from Jill to Jhyl. Clever, right? I could reference both the Jekyll (good) and Hyde (evil) in my character in a shift of two letters. People would always assume I changed the spelling just to be pretentious and mess with the baristas at Brew Ha Ha, and yeah, the monster in me has a bit of an ego—so I wouldn’t argue the charges. Contrast that with the innocent delight of the upstanding, blogwriting, fan-girl half of my personality when I scored the plum assignment to review Wilmington Drama League’s Jekyll & Hyde, the musical. The Wilmington Drama League chose the dark descent of Robert Louis Stevenson’s gothic tale to kick off its 87th season. The choice is both ambitious and a payoff. Get your id and superego (one ticket will serve both) to the theater before this show ends it run.
The story is straightforward. After his father’s succumbs to madness, Dr. Henry Jekyll sets out to prove that he can separate and remove man’s evil tendencies leaving only the peaceful, loving side of his nature. He has come up with a chemical formula, but he requires a test subject. When the Board of Governors at the mental hospital refuses to give him one, Dr. Jekyll decides to experiment on himself. In doing so he risks his reputation, his friendships, the love of his life, and even his own sanity. Presently, when Netflix specials profiling crimes and criminals are all the rage, we, the public, clamor for tales of morbid psychology. Jekyll & Hyde delivers—and with a score that offers up haunting power ballads that take us from crescendo to crescendo.
Director Brian Kavanaugh anchors this production with a stellar cast. From principles to chorus, this band of players brings out the whistles and ovations. They deliver the best-known solo hits of the show Someone Like You and This is the Moment as well as ensemble numbers like Façade and Bring on the Men with the force and sincerity that the score by Frank Wildhorn deserves. Especially noteworthy are In His Eyes and Confrontation. In the former, Meghan Hickey and Kendra Eckbolt, the two female principals of the show double down on chillinducing vocals. Confrontation ushers us to the climax of the action, when Mitch King, brilliantly inhabiting both Jekyll and Hyde, growls and pleads with increasing urgency while opposing forces of the personality battle for supremacy.
This production represents the setting of Victorian era England through its costuming, which is lush and swirling, as opposed to its sets which are dark and minimal (the exception being the layered curiosities of Dr. Jekyll’s study/lab). This allows lighting to sell the dramatic story and help to differentiate between the chapters Jekyll and Hyde. Blue lights—Dr. Henry Jekyll. All is well. Virtue prevails. Red lights—Mr. Edward Hyde. Baddy, bad, bad, bad. Sex, murder, greed. Bring on the fog machines and fake blood spurts. The women of the play sometimes get a nice, neutral rose hue to their scenes, which leads me to nitpick with the story a bit. While do-gooder Jekyll and the serial murderer Hyde represent the male struggle of good vs. evil, the female equivalent is once again represented as the dichotomy of prostitute vs bride--in this case, the characters of Lucy and Emma. Both are written as congenial, supportive (can I say flat?) characters who, as far as I can tell, are the same woman distinguishable from each other only by the length of her skirt and…ahem…access to her undies. My beef is with the writers, not the performers who induce sympathy for their characters in spite of limited written nuance. Red rant over. Switch back to the blue lights.
This production has some great dance numbers as well as choreographed action sequences. First time lead choreographer, Theresa Mignogna, deftly moves us through it all. This is a feat. I’ve noticed in past shows at Wilmington Drama league that shuffling large ensembles on its smallish stage can be a challenge, one that Mignogna surmounts with flourish. I suspect that we will see a lot more of her work in the future.
And now, special notice must be paid to the unsung hero of this show: the wigs. The hairpieces are characters unto themselves. I’ll say no more; you’ll see for yourself what I mean. Hurry and get tickets for this show which bows September 15.