CENTERVILLE — The history of the musical Jekyll and Hyde is about as the strange case of the original story itself. It made its debut in 1990 in Texas, but did not make it to Broadway until 1997. When it arrived on Broadway, it looked very different than it did in Texas, and the version I saw at this week is different than the version I saw on my first trip to NYC in 1997. Now in 2023, at CenterPoint Legacy Theatre does not have the same songs that I saw in New York, but it is the script I have seen over the last decade or more.
The script (by Leslie Bricusse) follows Dr. Henry Jekyll (played by Ben Lowell), who has determined that he must figure out how to separate the good in man from the evil. What ensues is the chaos that can happen when one mixes science and morality and strange storytelling. The production team at CenterPoint (led by director Liz Christensen) has spared no expense for the visuals, especially with the amazing set that echoes the inner-city London of the 1880s. Set designer Josh Roberts was well matched by Jordan Fowler’s lighting design that created an ambiance that was truly haunting. One of my favorite visual elements was Dr. Jekyll’s lab, which was mounted on flies and full of rich colors, different sizes of chemical bottles, and was eye-catching every time it was lowered on stage.
Jeanna Forthman created an intriguing costume design for Jekyll and Hyde. I enjoyed especially her choice of Emma’s costume. Emma (played by Amanda Frisby) is the character throughout the show that can maintain goodness throughout the dark, and the fact that her dress was brighter and more radiant than the rest was a smart, deliberate choice. As is often the case in period pieces, the women’s costumes were more elaborate than the men’s, with some notable exceptions. But Forthman managed to introduce some variety for the men’s costumes, especially in fantastic men’s hats, Jekyll’s costume, and the costume for the character of Spider (played by Connor Evans). Generally, though, the male ensemble members were very plainly dressed, which felt like a disappointment.
Lowell as Jekyll/Hyde was pure magic. It takes a great deal of talent to pull off a role that requires a person to move from good to evil in mere seconds. The song “Confrontation” in the second act is known for its challenging nature, and Lowell was capable of meeting the song’s difficulties. As Lowell metamorphized into Hyde throughout the show, it was impressive to be able to see him transition vocally and physically until it was almost like seeing a new person embodying Powell.
Frisby as Emma was a calm and soothing character with a beautiful voice. The song “Once Upon a Dream” has long been a favorite of mine, and Frisby sang it with such grace that I sort of wished for a rewind button. In contrast, Casey Matern as Lucy was rough yet powerful. Lucy has the power love ballad “Someone Like You” that may be the most well known of the show. However, it was Frisby and Matern singing “In His Eyes” together what really brought the house down with fantastic harmonies and different, yet deep, connections to the lyrics.
The music direction by David K. Martin was a mixed aspect of the production. One of the best parts of the show as a whole is the ensemble song “Façade,” a song that points out the cautionary moral of the story. The ensemble had impeccable vocals and really fantastic diction, which made it easier to understand the fascinating lyrics (by Frank Wildhorn, Leslie Bricusse, and Steve Cuden) better than perhaps any Jekyll and Hyde I had ever seen. However, with this approach to the music was almost too much beautiful and precise, making the score lack the bite and roughness that the show needs. Likewise, “Murder, Murder” lacked the fear that the song needs. However, by the time the songs “Dangerous Game” and “Spiders Façade” came along, the fear was in full swing and the emotions were much more palpable in the theatre.
Jekyll and Hyde is a great way to start out the spooky season of theatre. CenterPoint has a show that explores the duality of good and evil, and the tragedy of hubris. This production holds something new for longtime fans of the show, while also giving first-timers an enthralling retelling of Robert Louis Stevenson‘s classic tale.