Some of the finest voices I’ve heard at Candlelight Pavilion Dinner Theatre along with Jason James’ assured direction make for a first-rate Jekyll & Hyde out Claremont way, with Janet Renslow’s exciting recreation of the show’s original choreography adding to the pizzazz.
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 (Michael Scott Harris) 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 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 Henry’s wealthy, well-bred fiancée Emma Danvers (Amy Gillette) and Lucy Harris (Laura Dickinson), the prostitute he meets at the bachelor party thrown for him by best friend John Utterson (Richard Bermudez). 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 of things are for sure. 1) Its melodies will be among Broadway’s most hummable and most generic (not that there’s anything wrong in this reviewer’s book with generic pop as tuneful as Wildhorn’s). 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, who’ve probably belted it in Vegas or on tour. 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.
Harris returns to the mainland following three years at sea to do powerful, charismatic work as both the sophisticated Dr. Henry Jekyll and the nefarious Edward Hyde. His “This Is The Moment” is as stirring as power ballads get, with “Alive” and “Dangerous Game” another pair of winners. As for Jekyll and Hyde’s “Confrontation” of good vs. evil, Harris sings/acts it to the hilt … and to audience cheers.
Dickinson brings some of the best pop vocals in town to the luscious but luckless Lucy, stopping the show with “Bring On The Men,” then reaching the rafters with “Someone Like You” and “A New Life.”
Gillette’s exquisite legit soprano fits Emma to a T, making her “Take Me As I Am” and “Once Upon A Dream” each one more gorgeous than the other, and when Lucy and Emma join voices to duet “In His Eyes,” Dickinson and Gillette bring down the house.
The devastatingly handsome Bermudez makes the most of the rather thankless role of Jekyll best friend John, soaring vocally with “Pursue The Truth,” and the show’s bad guys are equally well drawn by Bob Bell (Sir Danvers Carew), Garrett Chandler (Sir Archibald Proops), Jason Marquez (Simon Stride), Robert Meyer (General Lord Glossop), Rick Wessel (Bishop Of Basingstroke), and towering villain Vil Towers (Lord Savage), with Valerie Jasso doing terrific double duty as Lady Beaconsfield and the less ladylike Nellie.
Ensemble performers are some of L.A.’s best and brightest up-and-comers, beginning with golden-voiced Lance Smith as Poole, along with Jessica Apperson, Stephanie Inglese, Jared Ryan Kaitz, Katie McConaughy, Rachel McLaughlan, Andrew Orbison, Nicholas Sloan, and Courtney Turner as assorted high society swells and low society not-so-swells.
Cast vocals benefit from Marc Macalintal’s expert musical direction, and the production as a whole from scenic designer Dwight Richard Odle’s top-drawer set (one that’s done the rounds from Redondo Beach to Fullerton and now Claremont), stunning costumes provided by FCLO Music Theatre and coordinated by Jenny Wentworth, Byron Batista’s multitude of wigs, and Jonathan Daroca’s dramatic lighting design for SteveGDesign. Michael Ryan once again strums his Spanish guitar quite gorgeously as preshow entertainment.
Daniel Bride is stage manager and Orlando Montes technical director.
Kudos as always to Candlelight Pavilion owner/producer Ben D. Bollinger, general manager/vice president Michael Bollinger, acting producer Mindy Teuber, and especially to artistic director John LaLonde.
Jekyll & Hyde may never be a critics’ darling, but it remains an audience favorite for its drama, romance, and above all its gorgeous score. Check out this latest revival at Candlelight Pavilion Dinner Theatre to see why.
Candlelight Pavilion, 455 W. Foothill Blvd., Claremont.
October 26, 2014
Photos: John LaLonde