A fabulous production of “Jekyll and Hyde – the Musical” is playing at Music Theatre of Connecticut this month. It stars Andrew Foote as Henry Jekyll, the courageous doctor who tried to understand the mental collapse of his father, and when he could not get support from his hospital for an experimental drug test wound up testing it on himself. The drug he developed turned him into a man with two personalities: the good and upstanding Henry Jekyll, and the lascivious wolf-like Edward Hyde, who, besides being free spirited, committed several murders before killing himself (themselves) while trying to integrate the personalities.
Sub-personalities are common. Most of us have them and can remember planning to fly a plane or design a beautiful playhouse or hug an invisible companion person or animal while we drift into sleep. Integrating them is a part of mental health that sometimes works well in therapy, or sometimes just happens by attrition. When Steve Cuden and Frank Wildhorne conceived this Musical journey, with lyrics by Leslie Bricusse, they began it with a motivating scene in which Jekyll sees his father’s deterioration, followed by a frustrating attempt to have the Directors of a London Hospital acknowledge his work and desire to achieve a significant goal. The implication that grief and loyalty to his father, and anger over being rebuffed by the hospital directors were the events that caused Henry Jekyll to release a rebel personality in the form of Edward Hyde.
In the score, Jekyll is engaged to marry Emma Carew (Carissa Massaro), who is very much in love with him, despite some hesitation by her father, Sir Danvers Carew (Donald E. Birely), about his temperament. On a night when friends take him for a bachelor party at a famous brothel, Jekyll cannot take his eyes away from Lucy (Elissa DeMaria), who fascinates him. She becomes a regular customer of Edward Hyde, and a symbol of the tension within Jekyll/Hyde seeking physical pleasure with Lucy versus spiritual love with Emma.
Another regular patron of the brothel is the Bishop of Basingstoke (a distinguished Lou Ursone), who is also one of the directors who turned down Jekyll’s request for a drug test. He is the first of the several persons killed by Edward Hyde. The lyrics point to hypocrisy and resentment, and that theme is repeated as another hospital director is killed, then still another.
When Jekyll confides to a friend how serious is his need to continue the drug formula he also begs him to deliver a letter to Lucy telling her to get out of London at all costs. He delivers it. But before she can go, Hyde visits and kills her too. Finally, Jekyll seems free to marry Emma, and in the middle of the wedding he experiences Hyde coming out. The scene is magnificently acted by Andrew Foote, who with the help of a simple change in how a display of long hair is clamped back or not, and the help of superb lighting effects, manages the changes from Jekyll to Hyde and back, dropping a few more bodies but not killing Emma, who cradles his own dying body with love and forgiveness.
It was bizarre to watch these transformations in the same week that the nation was glued to television screens asking whether a young Brett Kavanaugh was a split personality: boy scout and choir boy on the one hand, and beery bad actor on the other. Hyde’s visits to Lucy in the brothel – the bad side acting out – were reminiscent of the memories of an accuser that was harmed by the boys from Georgetown Prep.
All the amenities contributed to the excitement. The musicians under David Wolfson’ conducting), the flexible set and careful lighting design (Michael Blagys and Kelly Burr Nelsen), the period costumes (Dianne Vanderkroef), amazing sound design (Will Atkin), the fight choreography (Dan O’Driscoll), and the bold direction (Kevin Connors) gave a wonderful patina to the show. Do yourself a favor and get tickets ASAP.
Information and tickets at www.musictheatreofct.org or 203-454-3883.
Tom Nissley for the Ridgelea Reports on Theatre October 7