Dynamic doctoring

Jekyll and Hyde (Phoenix Ensemble)

Pavillion Theatre

October 18 – November 9

In each of us there are two natures. If this primitive duality of man, good and evil, can be housed in separate identities, life will be relieved of all that is unbearable. It is the curse of mankind that these polar twins will be constantly struggling…. It is this understanding, as outlined in the prologue of “Jekyll and Hyde” that forms the basis of the musical’s action; obsessed with the ability of one person to be both good and evil, driven Doctor Henry Jekyll develops a potion to rid humanity of evil. Although he has the support of his loving fiancé, Emma Carew and her father and his trusted friend John Utterson, his proposal is denied by the Board of St Jude’s Hospital, so he sets about experimenting on himself and so becomes Edward Hyde.

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It’s a story based on the 1886 gothic novella “Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde” by Robert Louis Stevenson, which has been adapted many times for film and stage. This interpretation, first seen on Broadway in 1997 with music by Frank Wildhorn and book and lyrics by Leslie Bricusse, takes some creative license on the original story, but still serves up a darkness that is far from usual musical theatre fare with a death toll of the Titus type. And Phoenix Ensemble effectively handles the confrontation of its many murders, which are well-realised through Dudley Powell’s fight choreography in balance against playful lyrics of the ‘they’ve murdered dear old Bessie, I hear it was extremely messy’ sort.

Lauren Conway’s choreography is vibrant and engaging, which is no better seen than in Act Two’s catchy entire company opening number ‘Murder, Murder’. Simple but effective staging also serves the show well, allowing Justin Tubb-Hearne’s vivid costume palate the opportunity to shine. Indeed, from Act One’s rousing ‘Bring On the Men’ introduction to the rough Red Rat establishment, the atmosphere is set as a visually rich experience in its tartaned take of cabaret complete with fishnets, lace, corsetry and ruffles of red and black in contrast to the purples of respectable society.

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The seedy Red Rat is where Dr Jekyll (Michael Mills) has a chance meeting with lady-of-the-night Lucy (Ebony Hamacek), which results in his decision to self- experiment and a grim Act Two journey through the crimes of the unpredictable Edward Hyde within Dr Jekyll himself. It also facilitates Hamacek’s strong entrance, positioning her in contrast to Jekyll’s poised and elegant fiancé Emma (Kelly Cooper), whose operatic voice is simply beautiful alongside Mills’ in ‘Take Me as I Am’, in which Emma and Henry pledge their love and allegiance at their engagement party, one of many showcases, also, of the talent of the show’s musicians (Musical Director Trenton Dunstan).

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This is, however, Mills’ show. Not only does he realise both the misguided but well-meaning scientist and the demonic, beastly Hyde with captivating confidence, but his voice is gorgeously musical theatre. In the musical’s most enduring hit, the ballad ‘This is the Moment’, when Jekyll is about to test his formula on himself, he passionately soars the number towards its requisite key change before impressively holding its final notes in triumph.

Doing double duty as Dr. Henry Jekyll and Edward Hyde is no easy feat and Mills’ embrace of the energy required is to be celebrated. He switches between the characters with ease, especially in duet with himself, Act Two’s ‘The Confrontation’, where, aided by Jason Gardner’s on-point lighting design (and Stephen Eggington’s lighting operation), he flawlessly transitions between the two in illustration of his internal struggle, to jaw-droppingly good effect. Under Elodie Boal’s strong direction, each member of the ensemble also gives a committed, focused performance, leading to a very cohesive whole, even if the start of some scenes stall a little without dialogue or song.

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As one of the most polarising of all Broadway musicals, “Jekyll and Hyde” is perhaps an acquired taste type of show, however, in Phoenix Ensemble’s hands, the evocative tale of the epic battle between good and evil is given a dynamic realisation. This is a show for theatre-goers who enjoy something different, when different is done well…. it is all about looking behind the façade of expectations that might be associated with its subject matter.