Cottage Theatre’s Jekyll & Hyde brings to life the classic story of good versus evil as a rock opera. Adapted from the 1886 novel, the musical follows the kind-hearted Dr. Henry Jekyll who uses the power of science to separate the good and evil in his soul. Soon that evil possesses Jekyll and takes on a life of its own as the demonic persona, Edward Hyde, goes on a murderous rampage in Victorian era London.
The wonderful set design and large cast help set the mood of the piece and helps put you in the Halloween spirit. It’s a cross between the aesthetics and dark themes of Sweeney Todd with the large cast and energy of Jesus Christ Superstar.
Directed by Mark VanBeever, the director of last year’s 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, this adaptation has an interesting twist on the classic story. Unlike the traditional version, this rendition has Hyde shadowing Jekyll throughout the entire show. It’s not uncommon for two actors to play the roles of Jekyll and Hyde. Having Hyde shadow Jekyll as a silent, ever present reminder to the audience of the evil inside him is an interesting idea. While this seems like a cool way to bump up the creep factor on paper, in practice it’s a bit distracting and what started out as creepy became a bit tiresome and awkward.
As Hyde is never introduced, someone unfamiliar with the story may be confused in the beginning by a greenly lit man running around on stage unnoticed. Hyde, for the most part is always in the middle of the action, constantly pacing with fists angrily clenched as he stares at Jekyll. I found this a bit distracting and detracted from the main focus of the scenes.
I thought it took away from the moral of the story; the fact that all people, no matter how good they are, have a dark side to them. By having Hyde appear as an evil, separate individual trapped in Jekyll's mind, it takes away from this theme. It wipes clean the responsibility of the questionable actions of Jekyll and puts the blame on Hyde. Thus, a story about everyone having a dark side becomes simplified to just pure good versus pure evil. It shows that Jekyll is good and only does bad things because Hyde, the ever present shadow, is there to guide and persuade him to do so. I’m not a Jekyll & Hyde purist, I like the idea of making a change like this to the piece as it puts a lot of new variables into play, but I think I would have preferred the show without Hyde being ever-present.
Josh Carlton does a good job as Henry Jekyll, but I found myself wishing for him to go bit bigger at times. I see Jekyll as a person who is almost too good, like a super Boy Scout, so his personality should be a bit more of an exaggerated innocence and naivety. Carlton plays him more as a straightforward everyman, which works, but could have exaggerated lines more to create a Jekyll who is too good of a person in order to better contract the wickedness of Hyde. Kory Weimer is creepy and sinister as Edward Hyde and does a great job at bringing out the creep factor of the character. He seems like someone who would tie a person to a set of train tracks and laugh maniacally as they're run over. You can tell he was enjoying every one of his lines, but it was Tracy Nygard as the Jekyll’s love interest, Lucy Harris, who wowed me. Nygard had the strongest performance and her powerhouse singing voice was only matched by Phoebe Gildea who played Jekyll’s fiancé, Emma Carew.
Jen Ferro as Lord Savage was a favorite of mine and I loved her comedic mannerisms. A bit goofy, but the kind of dorky fun that always made me laugh. It was clear to me that Ferro, along with Aislinn Wright Mirsch as the supporting character Nellie, a brothel worker, were both having a lot of fun with their roles and stole any scene they were in. All the actors who made up the group of characters called the Governors were highly entertaining and gave me the chuckle I needed to offset the drama of story.
If you are a huge theater nerd and are familiar with the story, then I think you’ll find a lot to like out of this performance. If you’re not a huge theater fan and aren't familiar with the story, then this one might not be for you.
You can catch Jekyll & Hyde from October 6th - 29th at the Cottage Theatre in Cottage Grove. Total runtime is two and half hours with a 15 minute intermission. The production is advertised as mature, but is suitable for anyone 13 years or older.
The show avoided serious complication after it was served with a cease and desist letter just prior to opening night.
Music Theatre International sent the letter citing the theatre's plan to have two actors play Jekyll and Hyde--a role usually reserved for a single actor. In the Cottage Theatre's version, both actors are on stage with one always in the background while the other runs through dialogue. However, according to the cease and desist, this version violated the "intent: of the play and actors in Cottage Grove worked to reherse an alternate play in case Music Theatre International stuck to its ruling.
Cottage Theatre Executive Director Susan Goes told media outlets that the decision was reversed just prior to the first showing and both actors will be permitted to play the part as originally planned by Cottage Theatre.