Theater Review: Jekyll & Hyde

Lack of extremes
Jekyll & Hyde
Through Nov. 28 at Greater Orlando Actors Theatre
669 Cherry St., Winter Park

Dr. Henry Jekyll has been mixing his drinks again — literally. One particular cherry-red concoction — formula HJ7 — could be providing him with quite a kick, shifting his normally placid personality from friendly to fiendish. The resulting identity has a penchant for murderous behavior and particularly nasty romantic proclivities. In fact, his qualities are so different from the good doctor's that he even has his own moniker — Mr. Edward Hyde.

Robert Louis Stevenson's 1886 Gothic tale, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, was transposed into a smash Broadway musical, Jekyll & Hyde, in 1997. The show's book, music and lyrics are by Steve Cuden, Frank Wildhorn and Leslie Bricusse. The Greater Orlando Actors Theatre is currently staging the work under the direction of Paul Castaneda, with Don Hopkinson serving as musical director.

To its credit, GOAT has managed to cram the expansive creation into its less-than- cavernous Cherry Street space with a cast of 30 well-costumed performers who sing acceptably and move comfortably in the small acting area. The leads include John Gracey as Jekyll, Erin Brenna as Lucy, Scherezada Morales-Roman as Emma, Rob DelMedico as Utterson and, in a departure from the standard modus operandi, Stephen Pugh as Hyde.

While the acting and vocalizing are generally up to snuff, GOAT's production suffers from a lack of the sort of special effects that can convert a middling book and score into a spectacular theatrical experience. For instance, instead of the same actor transforming himself from Dr. Jekyll into Hyde amid an array of optical illusions and flashy stagecraft, Gracey and Pugh must dart on and offstage as nimbly as they can, replacing one another in full audience view. More often than not, the seams show.

In addition, directors Castaneda and Hopkinson have decided to mic their actors, who must then battle a taped score played back at unsuitably high levels. Since the audience is never more than 10 feet away, the overkill is completely unnecessary. Lastly, how to light the tiny space with an audience on three sides totally stymied the tech crew — at least half the show is performed in relative darkness, and impenetrable shadows mar many scenes.

Fans of the musical will enjoy renditions of such popular tunes as "This Is the Moment" and "Someone Like You," and GOAT is to be commended for tackling this theatrical behemoth. But on the scale of good versus evil, this Jekyll & Hyde falls somewhere between the two.

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