I had only seen one show at the new home of the Williamsburg Players prior to seeing the Saturday matinee of Jekyll and Hyde: The Producers in 2011, immediately after the space was completed. Knowing the resources that went into the facility, and being a techie at heart, I was looking forward to seeing what could be accomplished in the space.
While the capabilities may be there, I left this production less than impressed. It is always difficult to express an unpopular opinion, as I feel this is certain to be, but I’m obliged to speak as I find.
Jekyll and Hyde, conceived by Frank Wildhorn, Leslie Bricusse, and Steve Cuden, had its world premiere in Houston, Texas in 1990 for a run of only a few months. Five years later, additional small runs in Houston and Seattle eventually led to a US tour. It finally landed on Broadway in 1997. Taken from the immensely popular novel by Robert Louis Stevenson, Jekyll and Hyde visits the same issues of good and evil, but adds a love story not present in Stevenson’s work.
The sound of the orchestra for this particular production was beautiful, and kudos to all the players, but it was far too loud. As a matter of fact I suspected that the band was behind the curtain stage right, and so took a seat on the opposite of the house for Act II, hoping it would make a difference. It did not. I overheard several other patrons echoing my (unspoken) sentiments on the way out as well.
In addition to the volume of the band (or perhaps because of it) the body microphone levels were also set far too high, causing the beautiful voices of the cast to come off a bit garbled and making many of the lyrics unintelligible to the audience. If this was in fact done in response to the volume of the band, it wasn’t the best solution. Honestly, the space is small enough that body mics should not be needed, and one of the best parts of the performance I attended was when Jekyll’s (Geoffrey Klein) body mic cut out completely. You finally felt his emotions and could understand what he was saying. I will give a bit of a disclaimer at this point: I have worked sound and anyone who knows me know that I have a special loathing for body mics. However, this is a perfect example of why I feel that way – they tend to detract more than they assist, at least in spaces this small. They definitely have their place in the larger theaters, but community stages are usually better off letting their actors project naturally, with some floor or free hanging mics for the assisted listening devices.
The lighting was better. The portrayal of an argument betwixt Jekyll and Hyde using a cyc and silhouette was particularly clever. Projections were also employed for Jekyll’s blackboard, lending a few macabre elements to the background at key points throughout the production. Given the simplicity of the set, the burden often fell upon Lighting Designer Scott Hayes to take the audience from one locale to the next, and he succeeded quite admirably.
I am generally a fan of abstract sets, and Brian Agor’s minimalist elevated walkway/footbridge design was elegant in its simplicity. However, when your set is simple your characters have to be all the more believable. Frequently actors climbed and crossed this bridge seemingly just to give them something to do while singing. There was not a mediocre singer on the stage, let alone a bad one, but good singers alone do not a musical make.
Several scenes had actors singing facing upstage, or facing downstage but hardly moving or emoting. The show already has many songs that, beautiful though they are, do little to advance character or plot. So, when your actors “park and bark,” the audience can easily become bored. However, as I said earlier, the singing was beautiful. Director Jonathan McCormick and Musical Director Nerissa Thompson are to be commended for assembling such talented voices. Jekyll/Hyde (Geoffrey Klein), Emma Carew (Laurel Christensen), John Utterson (Alvan Bolling), and Lucy Harris (Erin Hannon) all turned in wonderful vocal performances. The duet between Emma and Lucy, “In His Eyes,” was particularly lovely.
Strictly from an acting standpoint, Martin Bussert deserves special recognition for his portrayal of Sir Danvers Carew, father of Jekyll’s fiancee. While I realize the action is set in the Victorian era, most of the performances were notably stiff next to Bussert’s more relatable Sir Danvers. Other exceptions were Erin Hannon’s depiction of Lucy Harris and John Cauthen’s brief appearance as Spider. Both brought much needed feeling to the performance.
I mentioned early on that I thought mine would be an unpopular opinion. To explain, I heard very positive comments from my fellow patrons in the lobby at intermission and on the way out (sound issues aside). Enough audience members liked the particular performance enough to grant it a standing ovation. In my research of the show, I found that there is a concert version available, and I think that may be the best medium for this particular work. As I say, that is only this author’s opinion. Please feel free to share yours, along with your experience of Jekyll and Hyde, in the comments below.
Jekyll & Hyde closed this past Saturday, so it would be pointless for us to exhort you to go out and see it. For future reference though, Williamsburg Players’ NEXT show, Gore Vidal’s The Best Man, opens Nov. 3. Here’s the info.
And in the meantime, let us know what you thought of Jekyll & Hyde!