REVIEW: Centre Stage’s ‘Jekyll & Hyde’ is a Triumphant Musical Thriller

Josh Thomason plays Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Photo by Escobar Photography
Josh Thomason plays Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Photo by Escobar Photography

“Jekyll & Hyde: The Musical” is a resounding triumph, a phantasmagoric musical thriller with a classic Gothic storyline, breathtaking performances, and aesthetically-brilliant costumes, scenery and lighting.

BY SANDY STAGGS
DRAMA CRITIC

Centre Stage launched its first musical of the season Thursday with the much-anticipated “Jekyll & Hyde: The Musical.” And the result is a resounding triumph, a phantasmagoric musical thriller with a classic Gothic storyline, breathtaking performances, and aesthetically pleasing costumes, scenery and lighting.

Based on Robert Louis Stevenson’s “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” this timeless dark tale examines good and evil lurking inside all of us and features a grandiose score by Frank Wildhorn, a book by Leslie Bricusse and lyrics by Wildhorn, Bricusse and Steve Cuden.

Josh Thomason plays both of the titular roles, the eccentric Dr. Jekyll, who longs to experiment on a human subject in an effort to aid his catatonic father, and, after drinking his own deleterious formula, the psychopathic Mr. Hyde, who goes on a murderous rampage across Victorian London in the vein of Jack the Ripper.

A Furman graduate with Improv training at The Second City in Chicago, Josh Thomason, gives a tour-de-force turn here in his Centre Stage debut. He displays unwavering resilience as the troubled, but misunderstood, eccentric physician who values his research above all, even his beautiful and devoted fiancée Emma, the smashing Jennifer Alynn-Perri.

And after imbibing his potion, Thomason transforms with a simple unfurling of his hair (and some writhing on the floor in pain) into the sociopath Mr. Hyde, a fashionably dressed savage who exacts revenge on those that mocked his experiments and begins a Sadomasochistic relationship with a gorgeous prostitute Lucy, played by the sensational Paige ManWaring.

Thomason craftily dissembles back and forth between visages his with vertiginous dexterity:  two distinct faces, two disarming personalities, and two different speaking and singing voices. His gentle manners embolden Jekyll’s humanity in songs like “Take Me as I Am” but as Hyde, Thomason is gritty and grotesque in “It’s a Dangerous Game.” And later in the tale, he is simply mesmerizing as the personalities struggle to dominate him in a thrilling internal tug of war.

Emma is the daughter of a pillar of society, Sir Danvers Carew (Clark Nesbitt in fine Aristocratic form), and he worries about Jekyll’s precarious disposition and struggles with her decision to marry him (“Letting Go”).

Miss Alynn-Perri unveils her high-caliber superstar vocal musings in this show. I have seen her in supporting dramatic and comedic roles, but this is the first time I’ve had the pleasure of witnessing this lyric coloturan soprano’s incredible pipes. She unleashes this precious instrument in compositions “Take Me as I Am” and “Once Upon A Dream” and simply blew me away with her precise pitch and unabated vibrato.

ManWaring’s Lucy is explored more in-depth in this musical, probably because her story as a lady of the night is more interesting. ManWaring is explosive in one of the cabaret number “Bring In the Men,” and she is simply brilliant both vocally in “Someone Like You,” and in her characterization of this woman who longs for more in life (“A New Life”). She drips with empathy, allowing the viewer to see her soul, and, at the same time, is a beacon of sensuality, albeit always with the knowledge that Lucy is never in complete possession of it.

But the most magnificent treat is when the ladies sing together (or rather simultaneously) the enchanting “In His Eye” as ManWaring’s mezzo register compliments her rival, but presents a striking dichotomy that reflects the “two” men in their lives and their conflicted perceptions of “him.”

And Bruce Meahl (last seen in “A Party to Murder”) gives an incredibly impassioned showing as John Utterson, Jekyll’s attorney and friend who is his staunchest supporter.

The cast includes a cavalcade of Centre Stage regulars in the many sporting roles: Dave LaPage (star of last month’s hit play “Is He Dead?”) lends dramatic tension as Jekyll’s nemesis and rival for Lucy’s hand; Celia Blitzer (Grandma in “The Addams Family”) looks and sounds dynamite in her Victorian fashions as the prostitute Nellie; Brian Reeder (“Just Tell Me My Name”) is delightful as the flamboyant Lord Savage; MJ Maurer (“Is He Dead?”) is the epitome of class as Lady Beaconsfield; and Rod McClendon (“A Party to Murder”) portrays piety and hypocrisy as the Bishop of Basingstoke.

Also in the ensemble are Marnie Daniel, Jim Davis, Ian Dorman, Claire Duffle, Katrina Glass, Peter Haloulos, Grace McGrath, Ben Nicholas, JJ Pearson, Kimberly Schmidt and Andre Webb.

Glenda ManWaring, Center Stage’s Executive and Artistic Director, returns to the director’s chair for “Jekyll and Hyde.” With an indelible touch, she has crafted an incredibly engrossing mystery and adventure cemented in free-flowing non-stop action and special attention to fostering the development of the main characters. The full package indeed!

And her scenic design is brooding, bold and comprehensive and evokes the time period well.

Holly Caprell is Music Director and has succeeded on all fronts with amazing voice casting and tailoring the material.

Paige ManWaring’s choreography is fresh and inviting especially in Lucy’s signature song the bawdy “Bring In the Men” and the biting cityscape anthem “Façade.”

The glorious and voluminous costumes were designed by April Schaeffer (with Laura Wolfe) and feature a lush assortment of fabrics, textures and layers from the tailored men’s suits and top hats to the impeccable beadwork on Miss Alynn-Perri’s dresses.

All of the exquisite wigs (and make-up) were styled by resident millinery genius Victor DeLeon.

The lighting is sinuous and mood altering, with clusters of dramatic genius including touches in Jekyll’s laboratory where Ian Dorman’s properties come into play. Matthew Polowczuk’s sound design is extra crisp and pervasively germane to the success of this show. Jeff Levene serves as Stage Manager.

Granted, this is a rather long show, but if the cast and crew can excel as artists for the duration, we can certainly acquiesce eagerly and enjoy as spectators.

“Jekyll & Hyde: The Musical” continues Thursdays-Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. through Nov. 12 at Centre Stage, 501 River St. in Greenville. Call (864) 233-6733 or visit http://centrestage.org.

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