For its 58th season's annual musical, Colonial Players tackles the dark Victorian tale of good and evil, Jekyll & Hyde, with aplomb, thanks to an energetic cast and immensely clever staging.
Director Craig Allen Mummey's actors can sing and dance - and even perform fight scenes fearlessly.
His set, designed with help from Dick Whaley, forgoes computer-controlled staging for a U-shaped bench-like representational set fitted with disappearing platforms to instantly create Jekyll's laboratory, a hospital board room, an elegant home, a tawdry pub and the mean streets of London.
Frank Wildhorn and Leslie Bricusse's Jekyll & Hyde, an adaptation of the 1886 novella by Robert Louis Stevenson, is a rock opera, told almost entirely through music, often in recitative-like dialogue-heavy songs.
At times the score rises to classical operatic heights as in the quartet "His Work and Nothing More" sung by Jekyll, his friend John Utterson, his fiancee, Emma Carew, and her father, Sir Danvers Carew. It also produced such hit songs as "This is the Moment," "Someone Like You" and "Once Upon a Dream."
When we meet Dr. Jekyll, he is an idealistic physician and respected member of the community, devoted to Emma and his friends and family.
His devotion to his mentally ill, hospitalized father motivates Jekyll to suggest dangerous psychological experimentation. The hospital board denies him, and Jekyll proceeds anyway.
Colonial's production is distinguished not only for its first-rate cast, but also for the work of behind-the-scenes crew members, including music director Stephen Deininger (on keyboard), stage manager Herb Elkin, choreographer Alicia Sweeney and combat choreographer Jamie Hanna (who also plays a groomsman and apothecary), along with Alex Banos' sensitive lighting design and Melinda Lee Braden's excellent costume design.
Top honors must go to Pete Thompson, a tour de force in the dual title roles. Without benefit of makeup or wigs, Thompson transforms himself instantly from the mild-mannered Dr. Jekyll to his evil, murderous alter-ego, Edward Hyde.
So adept is Thompson that on occasion he allows Jekyll's goodness to shine from within Hyde and hint at Hyde's animalism in his portrayal of Jekyll. What's more, Thompson underscores his characterization in such songs as his intense plea "Take Me as I Am" and as Hyde in his chillingly evil ode "Alive!" and even in duet with himself in "Confrontation."
Christine Asero's arresting portrayal of the disillusioned prostitute Lucy Harris, whom Jekyll befriends and Hyde uses, might represent one of the dual aspects of love for Emma. Asero's dancing is polished, and her singing of "It's a Dangerous Game" with Thompson's Hyde and the hit song "Someone Like You" are highlights of the show.
In the less showy role of Emma Carew, Emily Bowen establishes a warm rapport with Jekyll and her father, well played by Bob Brewer. Bowen possesses one of the finest singing voices in the cast, displayed in her shining rendition of the show's other hit song, "Once Upon a Dream," to produce another highlight.
David Thompson makes the most of the nondescript role of John Utterson, Jekyll's loyal friend, and contributes mightily to the "His Work and Nothing More" quartet.
As Jekyll's enemy, rival for Emma and villainous user of Lucy, Ron Giddings summons a snobbish restrained loathsomeness that suits the part, and he offers some fine singing in his reprise of "Facade."
Along with Vincent Van Joolen, Kevin Cleaver, Bryant Centofanti and Walt League, Giddings engages in frighteningly realistic combat with Thompson's Hyde. From my front-row seat, I cringed at the sheer force with which these actors attacked each other, often falling with a heavy thud very near my seat.
Giddings said later that he and Thompson compare their newest bruises after performances.
Barmaids at the Red Rat tavern, especially Andrea Elward as proprietress Nellie, also provide some fine choral singing and dancing.
Having enjoyed Bay Theatre's Picnic on Saturday evening and Colonial's Jekyll & Hyde at Sunday's matinee, I marveled at our good fortune in Annapolis, where two such high-caliber theater companies capable of producing such shows simultaneously might be envied by much larger, more famous theater towns.
Jekyll & Hyde runs at 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and at 2:30 p.m. Sundays through March 31 with a Sunday evening performance March 25. Tickets, which are $15 for adults and $10 for students and seniors, may be ordered at 410-268-7373.