“Jekyll & Hyde” has made its rounds over the years in the Long Island theatre scene, but this month Theatre Three in Port Jefferson presents a rarely produced version of the show to kick off their 50th Anniversary season. Their production marks the Long Island premiere of the Fullerton Civic Light Opera iteration of the Frank Wildhorn musical, created by Paul Hadobas for the company’s 2001 production. It features both a new book and material cut from the original Broadway production.
According to Executive Artistic Director Jeffrey Sanzel, director of “Jekyll & Hyde,” Mr. Hadobas personally contacted him about his version when Theatre Three produced the musical in 2005. Although it was already too late at that point, Mr. Sanzel located him this year and ultimately MTI, who licenses the show, allowed the theatre to present Mr. Hadobas’ version.
This reviewer admittedly lacks a point of comparison, as it was my first time seeing any version of “Jekyll & Hyde.” However, I can still agree with the director in that there is a definite sense of clarity when it comes to the story, which may have been lacking in the standard licensed version. As an adaptation from Robert Louis Stevenson’s original novel, the story has evolved over the years on stage and on screen, with every iteration exploring different angles of the core plot. Regardless of the version selected, the exuberant amount of artistry and talent on display in Theatre Three’s production would certainly have made up for any shortcomings.
As soon as the skilled live orchestra unleashes the first few chords of Mr. Wildhorn’s haunting score, the theatre is enveloped in a haunting atmosphere. This is further cemented by the appearance of the cast, dressed head-to-toe in gorgeous, spot-on period garb designed by Chakira Doherty. Everyone from wenches to noblemen to Dr. Jekyll himself exude dedication to the production and their craft. Even the scene transitions seem to be carefully choreographed to sustain the air of mystery and suspense Mr. Sanzel evokes with his direction.
Alan Stentiford gives a powerhouse dual performance as Dr. Henry Jekyll and Edward Hyde. With no prosthetics or editing to hide behind to believably transform into the horrifying Hyde, Mr. Stentiford must rely on pure talent as an actor through body language and vocal inflection. The result is tremendously successful. The actor seamlessly transitions from the sensitive, warm natured Jeykll into the devious Hyde with a beat or a lighting cue. The role also requires a gifted vocalist to fill the role and Mr. Stentiford delivers with a soaring tenor – executing the famous ballad, “This Is the Moment” with utter brilliance.
Dr. Jekyll is not the only instance of doubling in the musical. Possibly as an exploration of the novel’s themes, the show emphasizes Emma Carrew, Dr. Jekyll’s high society fiancee, and Lucy Harris, a prostitute who encounters both Jekyll and Hyde, as foils. However, they are rather contrasted on a class level than a moral one. Both women have big hearts, but live under very different circumstances. Emma, played by Tammy Dorsa, wants nothing more than to support her future husband and help him through his troubles. Ms. Dorsa is able to bring heightened dimension to a character who could easily be cliche with the strength she projects. Her operatic soprano is perfectly suited for Emma’s songs, which often emphasize her angelic presence in Jekyll’s life.
Meanwhile, Lucy, played by TracyLynn Conner, juxtaposes Emma’s gentle melodies with brassier, belty numbers like “Bring on the Men” – when she initially seduces Jekyll to a degree as a seemingly free spirited dancer and woman of the night. However, Ms. Conner expertly sheds light on Lucy’s desire to be a respectable lady – adjusting vocally for more vulnerable songs “Sympathy, Tenderness.” Lucy’s true spirit is on full display in audience favorite “Someone Like You,” which Ms. Conner performs with both power and pathos.
This trio is in good company, surrounded by some of Long Island’s best – who fill out the rest of the large cast of characters. The Board of Governors in all their comic relief and more sinister moments, Dr. Jekyll’s trusted friend John (Andrew Lenahan) and his inner battle of loyalty versus morality, prostitute Nellie (Emily Gates) as a comical, yet tragic figure, the vicious Simon Stride (Steve Uihlein) – I could go on endlessly. There is no weak link on this stage. Even the smallest moments in the shadows of the stage are performed with unyielding dedication – keeping the audience fully immersed in the world of 19th century London. With that being said, this is one of the strongest ensembles I’ve seen on stage.
The elaborate set – Dr. Jekyll’s laboratory in particular – becomes a character in itself on stage. Expertly designed by Randy Parsons, it evokes the gothic setting of Stevenson’s novel and aesthetic of the better film adaptations. It is complimented by Robert W. Henderson Jr.’s inspired lighting design. The confrontation between Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is an example of theatrical lighting at its finest.
Whether you’re familiar with the source material, musical, or neither, “Jekyll & Hyde” is a must-see theatrical event filled to the brim with talent, spectacle, and heart.
“Jekyll & Hyde” runs until October 26 at Theatre Three in Port Jefferson. Tickets are available on their website or at their box office located at 412 Main St., Port Jefferson, NY 11777.