If there’s anything Los Angeles theater can be justifiably proud of, it’s our particular talent for scaling down big-stage, big-bucks Broadway musicals to intimate dimensions. Recent productions of The Color Purple and Spring Awakening not only rivaled their Tony-winning New York counterparts, in the eyes of some observers they even surpassed them. Now, DOMA Theatre Company tries its hand at a downsized Jekyll & Hyde, and if a bit of miscasting and some roughness around the edges prevent it from reaching the heights hit by the aforementioned 99-seat smashes, the Marco Gomez-directed production nonetheless makes for an exciting evening of musical theater at its most dramatic and tuneful.

 Based on Robert Louis Stevenson’s novella Strange Case Of Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde (and the dozens of stage and screen adaptations it has inspired), Jekyll & Hyde tells the tale of London physician Dr. Henry Jekyll who, believing that it was the evil in his father’s soul that drove him to madness, determines to find a way to separate the good in man from the evil he believes to be lurking in us all. When his research proposal is turned down by the Board Of Governors of St. Jude’s Hospital, Henry decides to test his formula on the only subject willing to be his guinea pig—himself.

Sharing the stage with Henry (and with Edward Hyde, the malevolent alter ego who emerges once “HJ7” had entered his bloodstream) are the good girl/bad girl duo of Emma Danvers, Henry’s wealthy, well-bred fiancée, and Lucy Harris, the prostitute he meets at the bachelor party thrown for him by best friend John Utterson. When the nefarious Hyde sets his sights on the voluptuous, vulnerable lady of the night, the stage is set for a to-the-death confrontation between good and evil.

Since Jekyll & Hyde is what’s known as A Frank Wildhorn Musical (music by Wildhorn and lyrics by book writer Leslie Bricusse, Wildhorn, and Steve Cuden), a couple things are for sure. 1) Its melodies will be among Broadway’s most hummable and most generic. Take for example the production’s show-stoppingest ballad, “This Is The Moment,” which has about as much to do with late 19th Century London (or Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde) as do Cher or Celine Dion. 2) It will be both an audience favorite (the 1500+ performance Broadway run having generated national and international tours and regional productions galore) and the target of many critics’ slings and arrows.

 Still, whatever nits the more critical-minded may have had to pick with Wildhorn or Jekyll & Hyde, few can deny that the musical offers its lead performers some terrific roles to play, its entire cast a bundle of melodic songs to sing, and its audiences some truly thrilling moments of theatrical spectacle and wall-to-wall sound.

DOMA’s Jekyll & Hyde features a cast of twenty-six talented performers, each and every one of whom is miked, and with the Met Theatre’s much needed, much appreciated sound system upgrade, ensemble numbers like “Façade” and “Murder Murder” sound quite spectacular indeed.

As Lucy, Cassandra Nuss takes one of the best roles written for a musical theater damsel in distress and sings and acts it to sizzling, stunning, heart-rending perfection, whether belting out an electrifying “Bring On The Men,” or taking it down several notches for a touchingly tender “Someone Like You,” or dreaming of an impossible future in “A New Life.”

 Amber Gildersleeve performs Emma with such self-assuredness and grace and sings “Take Me As I Am” and “Once Upon A Dream” in such a glorious soprano that it seems scarcely possible that she is still a UCLA freshman, and studying to be a veterinarian no less. Less surprisingly, her duet of “In His Eyes” opposite Nuss is about as heavenly as duets get, and one of this Jekyll & Hyde’s most memorable moments.

As the man adored by both leading ladies, Chris Kerrigan faces the evening’s biggest challenge, one that he is only half successful at meeting. Too hulking to play the elegant, graceful Henry Jekyll (and too young-looking to boot), Kerrigan is also too much of a rocker for Wildhorn ballads like “This Is The Moment” which require a near operatic tenor to provoke the audience cheers it usually gets. Fortunately, Kerrigan hits just the right notes as Hyde, his imposing form and menacing glare proving every bit as frightening as his raspy renditions of “Alive” and “Dangerous Game” prove to be show-stoppers. To Kerrigan’s credit as well, Jekyll and Hyde’s “Confrontation” of good vs. evil is every bit the tour de force number it is intended to be.

 Supporting players are given considerably less to do, but as Nellie, the sensational Benai Boyd duets a powerful “The Girls Of The Night” opposite an equally sensational Nuss. Nik Roybal does commendable work as Utterson, exhibiting fine vocal chops in “Pursue The Truth.” Kevin Michael Moran’s Sir Danvers Carew and Board Of Governors members Richard Brunner (General Lord Glossop), Michelle Holmes (Lady Beaconsfield), Randal Miles (Simon Stride), Garret Riley (Sir Archibald Proops), Dan Spector (Lord Savage), and Scott Strauss (Bishop Of Basingstroke) provide solid support.

Completing the large, vocally strong ensemble are Elora Casados, Edgar Edgerly, Jason T. Gaffney (Poole), Kari Irwin, Mookie Johnson (Biset, Apothecary), Paulina Lagudi, Ana Therese Lopez, Adam Eugene McDonald, Victor A. Mercado, Stephanie Pressman, and dancers Maggie Hall, Leslie Marrero, Brittany Rodin, and Angela Salvetti.

Director Gomez’s decision to have his cast speak with American accents, while less than authentic, beats the mishmash of wannabe British accents heard by this reviewer in a previously reviewed Jekyll & Hyde.

Musical director Chris Raymond gets top marks for the cast’s expert vocalizing to prerecorded tracks as does choreographer Angela Todaro for finding imaginative ways to integrate movement into a non-dancey show. The pansexual canoodling at The Red Rat gets high marks, too, for its daring and for its sexual inclusiveness.

Brandy Jacobs’ imposing scenic design makes the most of the Met theater stage, and her costume designs are simply gorgeous, particularly the women’s gowns. (Amanda Lawson is assistant scenic designer.) Johny Ryman’s lighting design is suitably dramatic, and particularly effective in “Confrontation”’s alternating flashes of red and blue. David Crawford’s sound design makes the most of the Met’s newly improved sound system.  Kudos go too to hair and makeup artist Paul LaMarche, with special snaps for Gildersleeve’s cascading red locks (thankfully not the mousy brown do she sports in production stills).  Thumbs down, however, for Dr. Jekyll’s mad dad’s wolfman wig and beard.

Jekyll & Hyde is produced by Dolf Ramos, Mike Abramson, and Schoen Smith. Gomez is executive producer, JC Chavez controller, and Abramson director of operations. Danielle DeMasters is production manager, Jason Henderson technical director, and Angela Fong stage manager.

With ticket prices averaging about a quarter of what you’d pay to see a Broadway show, DOMA Theatre Company’s Jekyll & Hyde is at the very least a musical theater bargain. When Nuss’s Lucy, Gildersleeve’s Emma, and/or Kerrigan’s Hyde are center stage, it is considerably more than that, and well worth the price of admission.

DOMA Theatre Co. @ The MET Theatre, 1089 N. Oxford Ave., Hollywood.

–Steven Stanley
July 8, 2012
Photos: Michael Lamont

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