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‘Jekyll & Hyde’ at Spotlighters Theatre

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Frank Wildhorn and Leslie Bercusse’s Jekyll & Hyde on stage at Spotlighters Theatre in Baltimore is a close-up look at one man’s self-destruction.

Ryan Wagner as Dr. Henry Jekyll. Photo by Chris Aldridge, CMAldridgePhotography.

Ryan Wagner as Dr. Henry Jekyll. Photo by Chris Aldridge, CMAldridgePhotography.

Despite a book that lacks depth and, sometimes, a clear narrative thread, this production is beautifully staged and directed by Fuzz Roark and worth far more than the ticket price.

The Broadway version was filled with massive, imaginative moving sets, razzle-dazzle technology and a fleet of dancing cast members.

This production is no less a “must-see” production. The audience has to work a little, stretch their imaginations, visualize what an actor’s surroundings might be. Lean in.

The cast, with just a handful of props, astonishingly makes it work.

This 53-year old black box theater is a jewel. With approximately 71 seats, it’s an intimate venue. When passions erupt on the stage just inches away, it can be as uncomfortable for the audience as watching a family argument.

Music Director Michael Tan, on keyboard, and guitarist Greg Bell and percussionist and second keyboardist William Georg performed nearly non-stop throughout the show. It was often hard to believe three musicians could sound like a complete orchestra.

Set in the fall of 1888, the Victorian Era, Dr. Henry Jekyll, is devastated by his father’s descent into mental illness. The slumbering old man is wheeled onstage in a vintage wheelchair, strapped into a canvas straightjacket.

Attempting to find a cure, Jekyll (Ryan Wagner) believes it lies in separating man’s inherent good from his evil by chemical means. But, in doing so, he unmasks his own dark, malevolently murderous side. His proposal to test his theory on a patient at a London hospital is met with derision when he meets with its board of governors.

“Sacrilege!” exclaims the Bishop of Basingstoke (Michael Blum). Lady Beaconsfield (Christina Holmes) is less kind.

As his attorney John Utterson (Brian S. Krasnewski) looks on, all votes on the subject are a resounding “No!” save the abstention vote from Sir Danvers Carew (Jim Baxter), Jekyll’s future father-in-law and the chairman of the Board of Governors of the hospital.

Jekyll is enraged by their refusal. It will come back to haunt them when his dark side takes over. Jekyll’s next stop is the residence of his fiancée, Emma Carew (Patricia Hengen). Their wedding is six weeks away. Her father, Sir Danvers Carew (Jim Baxter) is wary about the nuptials. Later, Jekyll and Utterson head to The Red Rat, a bar heavily populated with come-hither prostitutes.

One, in particular catches their eye: standout Lucy Harris (Renata Hammond), wearing a bustier and short, gathered red Chantilly lace skirt. Afterwards, Jekyll heads to his laboratory – and into a world of darkness. Her performance of “Someone Like You”  was riveting.

Though the denouement of this classic tale is well-known, we won’t push the “spoiler” button.

This short story by Stephenson is fleshed out by more than 30 musical numbers. This 21-member cast, flush with gorgeous singing voices, is up to the task.

Ryan Wagner, especially, is a delight to watch as he changes from a pure-voiced Jekyll to a raspy, menacing deeper-toned Edward Hyde when the drugs kick in and he provides fine vocals on “This Is the Moment” and “Alive.”

The two main female leads, Patricia Hengen (Emma) and Renata Hammond (Lucy), have touching solos of “Once Upon a Dream” and “Someone Like You,” and, in the second act, a torching duet. Though they portray women from two different walks of life – and different socio-economic classes – through their song, “In His Eyes,” the audience discovers their mutual love for the same man – Jekyll.  Once Upon a Dream” – Emma

Scene stealers are usually cute kids. And, there is one, a tall one, Eliyahu Kheel, a member of the ensemble and a high school junior. He is as polished and professional in his multiple roles as the older actors.

Yet, I couldn’t take my eyes of Dave Guy, portraying General Lord Glossop, during his brief moments onstage. Probably the oldest member of the cast by a couple decades, this golden oldie is a scene stealer.

The cast’s costumes, designed by Laura Nicholson, strove to evoke the period, with tailored cutaway jackets, frock coats, capes, and jackets with shawl collars or high lapels, top hats, and walking sticks. Lots of walking sticks. The women dressed as ladies of the day in full skirts – and as ladies of the night in lace-up bustiers and short, draped skirts. A few of the costumes, including the Bishop’s could have used a session with a steam iron on seams and hems. In a show placed in Victorian England, I question why the prostitutes’ pimp and proprietor of The Red Rat bar had neon-colored hair, a plunging neckline, a goth-superhero outfit, spandex-y pants, and sparkly chains, which set her jarringly apart from the rest of the crew.

Several women wore beautifully styled and curled wigs in this production. Patricia Hengen’s red wig, featuring dozens of sausage curls, was a work of art. Christina Holmes proved to be a quick-change artist: she went from playing a nasty, proper, bewigged Lady to a naughty ‘Lady of the Night’ with a black cloud of frizzy hair.

The Jekyll & Hyde stage is a platform, about twelve by twelve feet, raised six inches from the floor. For this production, designed by Alan Zemla, the stage has been painted to represent an elegant wooden parquet floor with several veneer inlays. Two of its four support columns are painted to resemble granite blocks. The other two each have a pair of framed attached to them. At their base is a narrow bench wrapped around two sides.

The often fast-changing passions of the show were highlighted by the lighting design by Allison Ramer, who also operated the booth with Tom Ritter.

The cast, coordinated by stage manager Megan Millane and “murder choreographer” Ruta Douglas Smith, flowed onstage – and off – through four exits. One in each corner.

Walls were painted to resemble Tutor-style facades.

Several times, most of the cast stood behind a wall to perform as an unseen chorus. Heavenly.

Patricia Hengen (Emma) and Renata Hammond (Lucy). Photo by Chris Aldridge, CMAldridgePhotography.

Patricia Hengen (Emma) and Renata Hammond (Lucy). Photo by Chris Aldridge, CMAldridgePhotography.

Another delight was the portable “mad scientist’s laboratory” which easily, quietly rolled onto and off of the stage. When the two part of its top are pulled open, a small, lit-up lab rises up. It is filled with light-catching tubes, vials and measuring cups filled with colored liquids. It’s a small prop, but central to the story, and the only movable piece of the “scenery.”

Running Time: Two hours and 45 minutes, with a 15-minute intermission.

Jekyll & Hyde plays through February 8, 2015 at Spotlighters Theatre – 817 Saint Paul Street, in Baltimore. MD. For tickets. purchase them online.

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One Response to ‘Jekyll & Hyde’ at Spotlighters Theatre

  1. Fuzz Roark January 11, 2015 at 12:22 pm #

    In the original production of J&H, there were two characters in charge of the Red Rat – Guinevere, the proprietor of the tavern, and Spider, the pimp, who ran the girls. In this licensed edition the characters are merged. At Spotlighters we cast from our auditions, and with the concept that Spider was both proprietor and pimp – we chose to make use of the excellent talent of Parker Bailey Stevens. The women treat her as a man, but from her looks she is definitely female, and it was not uncommon in Victorian period for women to assume the business left to them by a father, and to portray a male role in dealing with business issues, since women had relatively little economic or social power (out side of the bedroom!).Thus you have Spider – a pimp, who is outside of society’s rule and roles, who out of force dominates the women in HER/his employ.