Wright State University could have produced Leslie Bricusse, Steve Cuden and Frank Wildhorn’s dark pop musical “Jekyll & Hyde” a decade ago, but thankfully the powers that be held the show until now so Blaine Boyd’s transcendent leading performance would be remembered as one of the best to ever appear on the Festival Playhouse stage.
Boyd, a key element to the remarkable success of WSU’s Ohio collegiate premiere of “The Light in the Piazza” last season, broadens his expertise as an actor and vocalist in the extremely demanding title roles. As Dr. Henry Jekyll, an earnest Victorian scientist who concocts a serum to separate good from evil in man, Boyd possesses an amiable charm coupled with a steadfast determination that gives total credence to Jekyll’s progressive mission, which his hypocritical colleagues and government officials deride. In fascinating contrast, he molds Jekyll’s diabolical alter ego Edward Hyde into a cunning, sensual and unnerving creation (effectively enhanced by sound designer James Dunlap). His stunning transformation into Hyde alone contains an animalistic physicality and excruciating pains so real you will cling to your seat in trepidation.
Musically, Boyd’s striking tenor fits impressively within the confines of Wildhorn’s challenging, rigorous score. “This Is the Moment,” the show’s signature anthem which has wallowed in beauty pageant hell for years, feels reborn due to his decision to emphasize the inspiring lyrics rather than resorting to self-indulgent vocalizing. Elsewhere, he unleashes Hyde to terrifying degrees in “Alive!” and presents a convincing “Confrontation” between the dual personalities resulting in a surprisingly chilling finish.
Although Boyd is an undeniable draw, this melodramatic yet substantive 1997 adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s gothic novella also relies on two women who endearingly frame the action and fuel its emotional impact. As Jekyll’s devoted fiancé Emma Carew, lovely soprano Alexandra Sunderhaus radiates with elegant gentility. Her rendition of “Once Upon a Dream,” Emma’s desire to restore her fractured relationship with Jekyll, is a highlight given added depth by Boyd’s marvelously silent interplay. Darian Taschner, another standout in “The Light in the Piazza,” shines again as Lucy Harris, the main attraction at London’s decadent Red Rat nightclub who has feelings for Jekyll and is abused by Hyde. Taschner poignantly delivers the bulk of Wildhorn’s beautiful ballads, specifically “Sympathy, Tenderness,” “Someone Like You” and “A New Life.” She also fills the melancholy magnetism of “No One Knows Who I Am” with a captivating introspectiveness that fully reveals Lucy’s somber uncertainty of her circumstance, existence and future. In addition, Sunderhaus and Taschner combine for a heartfelt “In His Eyes,” and are equally strong in their duets with Boyd, especially Taschner who applies keen apprehension to the seductive heat of “Dangerous Game.”
Well defined featured roles are offered by Zach Steele as John Utterson, Drew Helton as Sir Danvers Carew, Lucian Smith as Simon Stride, Jon Hacker as Spider, Cameron Blackenship as Lord Savage, Drew Bowen as General Lord Glossop, Eric Julian Walker as Bishop of Basingstroke, Charis Weible as Lady Beaconsfield, Ian DeVine as Sir Archibald Proops and Kylie Santoro as Nellie.
In a refreshing change of pace, director W. Stuart McDowell dials back the flashy showmanship evident in his helming of such musicals as “Cabaret,” “Hello, Dolly!,” “Show Boat,” “South Pacific” and “Titanic.” This time, he opts for a clear-cut, character-driven approach, refashioning “Jekyll & Hyde” as a relatively scaled down chamber piece. His skillful staging flows with intimacy, intensity and precision.
D. Bartlett Blair’s attractive period costumes, Kelly Green’s sleek set design and musical director Rick Church’s fine off-stage orchestra are also commendable.
“Jekyll & Hyde,” which opened Friday, January 21, is practically sold out, but try to get a ticket if you can.
Jekyll & Hyde, which has been dedicated to the memory of Marsha Hanna, continues through Sunday, January 30 in the Festival Playhouse of the Creative Arts Center at Wright State University, 3640 Col. Glenn Hwy., Fairborn. Performances are Tuesday and Wednesday at 7 p.m., Thursday and Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Act One: 75 minutes; Act Two: 50 minutes. Tickets are $17 and $19. For tickets or more information, call (937) 775-2500. In related news, Wright State plans to stage the Tony Award-winning musical Hairspray in the fall of 2011. WSU’s complete 2011-2012 lineup will be announced at a later date.