What a difference a director makes!  Cabrillo Music Theatre’s production of
Jekyll & Hyde towers over all others, including FCLO’s excellent revival just five
months ago, and the #1 reason can be summed up in a single name: Nick
DeGruccio. Following his brilliant direction of The Last Five Years, Beehive, and
Zanna Don’t (all of them cited on StageSceneLA’s Best Of The Year lists),
DeGruccio now does quite possibly his best work yet, taking a show which
detractors have called “bombastic” and “boring” and electrifying it, clarifying
its themes, heightening its drama, and above all making it human.  These are
real people we are seeing on stage, from its trio of star roles (or should that be
quartet?) to even the bit players at The Red Rat, in St. Jude’s Hospital, or on
the streets of London.

Key to DeGruccio’s electrification of J&H is its casting, and in Robert J.
Townsend, we have a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde to excite, involve, and move us.
Finally, J&H has a true leading man in the Hollywood tradition of Tyrone Power,
Errol Flynn, and Robert Taylor.  It’s not enough for Jekyll and Hyde to be
portrayed by an outstanding singer and powerful actor, though Townsend is
both. J&H’s leading man should also be young, vibrant, and hot (as were his
Tinseltown predecessors in their heyday).  At last we have a Jekyll we can root
for, empathize with, and fall a bit in love with.  (No, the last is not a personal
confession, though I’m sure that more than a few audience members left the
Kavli with a bit of a crush on the good doctor.) Townsend shows us the caring
physician willing to sacrifice himself for the good of his patients, the
compassionate man who sees in Lucy someone other than a lady of the night,
and the incarnation of evil that is Mr. Hyde.  If this towering performance
doesn’t guarantee Townsend a year (and beyond) full of other great roles,
there is no justice. CLOs take note!

Add to Townsend a superb supporting cast and you’ve got a stage filled with
brilliantly realized characters.

As Lucy, Lulu Lloyd may well be the musical theater discovery of 2008. This is a
Lucy who could just as easily have been the girl next door, had life not dealt
her an unfair hand. With her statuesque cuteness and glorious voice,
combined with acting chops that make our hearts bleed for her, the very
young Miss Lloyd is poised for a stellar career in musical theater.

Beth Obregon does lovely work as Emma, Jekyll’s well-bred fiancée, and
demonstrates a beautiful singing voice in “Once Upon A Dream.” When
Obregon and Lloyd duet in “In His Eyes,” it is heart-stopping. As Simon Stride,
golden-voiced Douglas Crawford (whom I saw as Nick Massi in Jersey Boys) is a
perfectly villainous foil for Townsend, tall, handsome, and dastardly, and
someone who’d make an excellent Jekyll & Hyde himself. Completing the
quintet of principals as Jekyll’s best friend John is Aaron Phillips, a fine
singer/actor whom any leading man would want to have by (and on) his side.

Back to master director DeGruccio, who has not only cast his leads to
perfection but has filled the stage with real actors and not just set pieces.  This
applies not only to the fine performers who portray Jekyll’s nemeses at the
hospital (Terry Fishman, Mona King, John D. LeMay, Ron Rezac, August Stoten,
and Tony Teofilo), Emma’s father (Jack E. Curenton), and bawdy madam
Nellie (a particularly gorgeous-voiced Caitlin McGinty) but to every other cast
member who is up onstage acting and being, and not just taking up space
while the leads perform. Kudos to them all for their committed work here: Paul
Bartlett, Brandee Berndt-Aguirre, Becca Cornelius, Tess Ferrell, Cristie Grissmer,
Kasi Jones, Jill Kocalis, Chandler Krison, Daniel Ross Noble, Cory Pearce, Nuno de
Sousa, Alex Spencer, Greg Thompson, Bobby Traversa, Philip Wieck, and Katie

Standout DeGruccio (and performance) moments in this production include:
•        the fine acting done by the tragically mad patients in the Violent Ward
at St. Jude’s,
•        a “working boy” plying his trade amongst the “working girls” of The Red
Rat (fine, courageous work by Daniel Ross Noble),
•        superb background performances by The Red Rat denizens, with not a
one of them simply standing about doing nothing,
•        an exquisitely sung (and acted) “Girls Of The Night” (kudos to the fine
female ensemble),
•        a “This Is The Moment” which brings shivers and tears,
•        Jekyll’s smooth voice becoming a devil’s/animal’s rasp as he transforms
into Hyde, and Townsend’s handsome face becoming frighteningly hideous
without the aid of makeup (how does he do that?),
•        Lulu Lloyd’s “Someone Like You,” which has you falling in love with the
singer and wanting to shout “a star is born!”
•        the violence (and terrifying inventiveness) of Hyde’s murders which
involve ingenious uses of canes, knives, diamond necklaces, and even
eyeglasses…and a severed head,
•        a very sexual reprise of Hyde and Lucy’s “Dangerous Game”
…to name just a few.

Steven Applegate leads a gorgeously rich 17-piece orchestra and Roger
Castellano has done excellent work with the musical staging. Steven Young’s
lighting design is (as always with the talented Mr. Young) Broadway-ready, as
are Jonathan Burke’s sound design and Jeffrey S. Marsh’s special effects.  The
uncredited set design has the high quality usually found only in major national
tours. The costumes supervised by Christine Gibson are richly elegant and
deliciously tawdry. (The mid-calf skirt Lucy wears when visiting Dr. Jekyll is the
19th century equivalent of a 21st century young woman arriving at the front
door of an elegant Bel Air mansion wearing hotpants. Quel scandale!)  T.
Theresa Scarano designed the show’s many props and Karen Zanki has done
fine work with hair and wig design.

Ultimately, though, the success of this production of Jekyll & Hyde comes down
to Nick DeGruccio and his stellar cast. As fine as our CLO productions can be,
rare is one which could just as easily be an all-Equity First National Tour. This
Jekyll & Hyde is that magical exception, made even more praiseworthy by the
fact that only three of its cast members (Townsend, Lloyd, and Crawford) have
their Equity cards, and proof that when talented performers get expert
direction, miracles can truly take place.

Kavli Theatre, 2100 Thousand Oaks, Boulevard, Thousand Oaks.

–Steven Stanley
March 9, 2008
Photos: Ed Krieger

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