I would imagine that Angela Boehm (Producer/Director) and Christina Haviland (Director), had a “Thelma and Louise” moment, when they decided to produce and direct Jekyll and Hyde, The Musical at Olmstead Performing Arts (OPA). In the past, OPA has been known for ultra-family friendly theatre, and rather conservative productions. The choice to produce Jekyll and Hyde, The Musical is similar to the finale of “Thelma and Louise”, where the two ladies clasp hands, slam on the accelerator, and take a perilous flight. In the case of this production, OPA should be proud. Not only do they take on heavier material, stretch their actor base, but also offer two equity contracts as part of their mission to become a professional theatre. I am thrilled when theatres create opportunities for equity contracts, and provide more work for the equity community. The directors also cast strong local individuals in their supporting roles to round out the excursion into new territory.
The story is based on the book “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” by Robert Louis Stevenson. Music is by Frank Wildhorn, Lyrics by Wildhorn, Leslie Bricusse, and Steve Cuden, and book by Wildhorn. The musical premiered on Broadway in March, 1997. The story revolved around a devoted man of science, Dr. Henry Jekyll (Michael Padgett*), who is driven to find a chemical breakthrough that can solve his father’s comatose state, and eventually be able to help others. Aided by his associate and longtime friend John Utterson (Josh Rhett Noble*), Jekyll presents his suggested study to the Board of Governors (an eclectic mix), and is denied. Jekyll then decided to use himself as a subject for his experiments, and the results are devastating.
Padgett as Jekyll/Hyde is fantastic. Firing on all cylinders, this artist created an accessible Jekyll, showing his humanity, and then slowly, the venerability as he pursued his objective. With soaring vocals, he commands “This Is The Moment”, with show stopping resilience, counters with illuminated darkness on Hyde’s dramatic “Alive”, and is eerily monstrous in the tender “Sympathy, Tenderness.” This is a well textured and beautiful performance. Natalie Green, as Lucy, is electric and hot. Besides her sheer beauty, Green brings powerhouse vocals and deft acting skills to the role. She handles the knock out numbers like “Someone Like You” and “A New Life”, as if key changes were kernels of popcorn, and she is hungry. Seemingly effortless vocal work, that results in a spectacular presentation for the audience. When Padgett and Green tangle in “Dangerous Game”, I had to remind myself I wasn’t watching pay for view. Riveting, provocative, and beautifully executed.
The role of John Utterson is kind of a thankless role. Important to the story, but not given tremendous weight, that is, until you have someone with the class and style of Noble. He brings layers of emotion, and tremendous stage presence to his scenes, and becomes a quiet anchor to the distressing storyline. I don’t know if this role warrants an equity contract, but I am sure glad that OPA did. Quality intact. And speaking of quality, this was my first encounter watching Rachel Anderson perform. As Emma Crew, she has a beautiful presence, a beautiful voice, and gorgeous look. Her voice soared, and was textured with strength and compassion. Rounding out the four horsemen or horsepersons, Anderson delivered a great portrayal, and along with Green, created a vocal event with “In His Eyes”.
The sound performances don’t stop there. Jeffrey Braun, as Sir Danvers Carew, was spot on as Emma’s father. Good vocals and character. Rebecca Riffle as Nellie, provided a fabulous chassis, sass for days, and her own strong set of pipes. Michael Vitovich, as The Spider, was appropriately creepy and mean. As a group, the Board of Governors was a blast, and certainly provided much entertainment as they met their ill-timed end.
The robust ensemble was certainly pushed by the choreography, provided by Josh Landis. They did dive right in and create mostly strong images, but the main critique is faces. They need to be more expressive and connected to the piece and lyrics that are happening. The distraction could come from trying to keep up with the dance, guess the next move, but you cannot let that affect your face. And, in the numbers, everyone should be coming into the scene on the same superlative idea, which can be individually interpreted and performed with each other. You are so important to any piece of theatre that is heavy on leads. The ensemble is the element that takes it to another level. So kick butt, have some fun, and Kill It!
As far as the direction, there are some details that caught my eye. The opening reveal could have been more impressive with set. Too vast of a stage to open up for the beginning. Scene changes were great, but at one moment, a crew member crossed from stage right to stage left, to help move a stage left staircase, that was distracting. One of my biggest peeves is a “button” on the end of songs, or dance numbers. Coordinating actors, lights and music, to create a crisp ending is key to executing a solid number. I found those lacking several times. Also, the lighting cues seemed off sometimes. However, the “Confrontation” lighting was great, just as long as the cues are flawless. And the staging of the wedding at the end, was excellent. What was lacking, will all get better in time. This is a great beginning.
Choreography by Landis was energetic and creative, although I would have preferred a bit more realism in “Murder, Murder”. But Landis pushed his ensemble hard, and the results strived to get the best out of everyone, which in many cases, was great. Loved the umbrellas. Judy Crandall coached great vocals, and David W. Coxe, led a talented orchestra.
Meghan Cvetic called a good show, Technical Director Bob Foraker provided effective scenery. Some scenes could have used more depth, but his best work was the basement laboratory. That was cool. The Lighting Design by Gary Holsopple is fine. And, Josh Caraballo provided great sound design, along with Dawn Hyde. (Any relation?) Costumer Jane Christyson provided some great looks.
Thelma and Louise should be very proud of this leap of faith.
There are two shows Saturday, August 9th, and the final show is on Sunday, August, 10th.
*Member of Actor’s Equity Association
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$13-$18 Reserved Seating
Olmsted Performing Arts
6941 Columbia Road
Olmsted Falls, OH 44138