'Jekyll and Hyde: The Musical' is a new twist

July 02, 1992|By Winifred Walsh | Winifred Walsh,Contributing writer

The Maryland premiere of an original musical adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson's chilling horror story, "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," is currently on stage at the Towsontowne Dinner Theatre through Aug. 23.

The book and lyrics for "Jekyll and Hyde: The Musical" were written by local playwright John Bruce Johnson. The music was composed by Baltimore musician, Shura Dvorine. The production is under the direction of F. Scott Black with musical direction by K. J. Davis.

When Stevenson wrote his novella in 1886 he intended it as a dark study of the primitive duality of man. The work explores the complex ethical problems caused by the attempted separation of the favorable and bad characteristics of the human psyche.

"Jekyll and Hyde" cannot be classified as a simple allegory. Its strength and endurance as a classic lies in the layers and layers of psychological and sociological ramifications.

Although the tale is usually portrayed on the stage and in films as stark, chilling melodrama, Messrs. Johnson and Dvorine have chosen to give Stevenson's disturbing fable a light musical treatment with a smattering of dark moments. The music is quite tuneful and the lyrics incisive.

Set in London in the late 1880s, this pleasantly engaging local version tells the story of the kindly scientist and philanthropist, Dr. Henry Jekyll, who (because of his wild youth) is fascinated by the prospect of separating the good and evil in man into two distinct personalities.

He develops a drug that unleashes the latent demons within him and his alter ego, the monstrous Edward Hyde, perpetuates atrocious deeds. An antidote quickly restores Hyde to the gentle Jekyll who continues working to relieve the sorrow and suffering of the underprivileged.

Although an interesting work in progress, Mr. Johnson's script and Mr. Dvorine's compositions are very loosely based on the original plot.

There are no significant women in the novella but adapters often insert a "good" woman and a "bad" woman to serve as metaphors for Jekyll's dual nature. In his adaptation, Mr. Johnson does not show much of the benevolent side of Jekyll. Rather he has inserted incestuous overtones by portraying Jekyll as a jealous uncle in love with his own niece -- an incongruous plot twist out of sync with Stevenson's original creation.

There is too much wordy exposition. Instead of talking about what is going on we should be able to see it. There is also too much emphasis on the love interest between the niece and her lover and in comic scenes involving the house staff. This frothiness detracts from the main story and hurts the important dramatic tension.

The laboratory scenes should be major ones where Jekyll is transformed into Hyde. The action on the side of the stage can barely be perceived. And the play cries out for special spooky effects (such as rolling fog, etc.), night sounds and several changes of scene.

The score needs to be orchestrated and executed by a solid musical ensemble (although K.J. Davis does a credible job on the piano). The red damask set with dark paneling is properly gloomy and the costumes authentic enough.

The roles of Jekyll and Hyde are well portrayed by fine baritone Harold Hamler. In the role of a street walker, talented Holly Pasciullo excels but her role is all too brief.

Good performances are given by the rest of the cast -- Billy Burke, Everett Rose, Vince Kimball, Helen Nathan and Fred Isgrig.

The pace of the show has to pick up considerably and all the actors must have greater character projection. But, overall, "Jekyll and Hyde: The Musical" is a fresh work that with some restructuring has promise.

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