Fort Worth — It’s the doors that catch your eye when you first see the set of Casa Mañana’s Jekyll & Hyde: The Musical. Not the heaped up Victorian furniture, or the hazy orange and blue lighting, or the metal catwalk high above the stage. The set of three doors are reflective, but not clearly so—they look almost tarnished, distorted. They resemble nothing so much as mercury glass (sometimes called silvered glass), a type of decorative glasswork that was in vogue briefly in the mid-18th century, not long before Robert Louis Stevenson first published his novella, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Pieces of mercury glass were double-walled, with a silver coating injected into the wall to give the illusion of a more valuable object. Mercury glass was the cheap alternative to real silver, offering the lower and middle classes their first taste of the sort of opulence only available previously to the wealthy. It’s a cunning — or at least serendipitous — bit of set design for a show obsessed with facades, distorted reflections, and what lies beneath the surface of the so-called good and the so-called bad.
Casa Mañana has mounted an excellent production of this musical, with stirring performances from its ensemble, most notably its main trio, who form the points of its love triangle (quadrangle? Tricky when one character has two personalities). As to whether the musical itself deserves the care and attention the production lavishes on it — on that question, your mileage may vary.
Robert Louis Stevenson wrote the first draft of his novella in 1886, in about three days if his family’s recollections are to be believed. (His wife wrote that he dreamed several of the key scenes, complaining when she woke him from what she thought was a nightmare, but was actually the first transformation of Jekyll into the sinister Hyde.) The musical adaptation of the novella had a somewhat longer and more tortured journey. Originally conceived of in the mid-1980s by Broadway perennial Frank Wildhorn and Steve Cuden, and later re-worked by Wildhorn and Leslie Bricusse, the show premiered at the Alley Theatre in Houston, in 1990 to sold-out houses, but this run was followed by a five-year hiatus as the show was retooled. It finally arrived on Broadway in 1997, following a national tour. Although the musical ran for more than 1,500 performances (and developed a cult following of fans dubbing themselves “Jekkies”), the show’s critical reception was always somewhat lackluster.
Is there anyone out there who really needs a description of the plot? At this point, there’s probably not a person alive who doesn’t know at least the basic ideas underpinning the story, although some might be surprised to know how many liberties modern adaptations have taken with the original concept. Still, the musical’s take is as follows: Dr. Henry Jekyll (Bradley Dean, almost as familiar to Casa Mañana audiences as to Broadway houses), a doctor and a bit of a futurist, is seeking a way to separate man’s good nature from his evil nature in an attempt to cure his comatose father’s mental illness. When his theories are rejected by those in power, the good doctor uses himself as the test subject for his serum. In doing so, Jekyll unleashes his evil alter ego, the sinister Edward Hyde, who proceeds to wreak havoc on Jekyll’s enemies, and even eventually on his loved ones, namely his fiancée Emma Carew (Sarah Stevens, showcasing a lovely, operatic voice) and hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold Lucy Harris (Caitlyn Caughell, belting it out with the best of them).
While the musical itself suffers from a somewhat forgettable set of songs, the cast of this production, ably directed by Tee Scatuorchio, brings out the best of what it has to offer. Bradley Dean, in the dual roles of Jekyll and Hyde, faces the challenges inherent to the project with aplomb. The physicality of Dean’s pre-transformation Jekyll gives off a sense of nervous energy, and restrained violence under a veneer of civilization; Dean makes it clear that what drives the monster is already present in the man. His Hyde is surprisingly restrained at first, with only a subtle growl to his vocal work and a lowered head between hunched shoulders suggesting the predator within, and he brings a quiet, wry humor to his portrayal of Jekyll. Sarah Stevens as Jekyll’s fiancée brings fire to what in some ways is a thankless role. Her chemistry with Dean is palpable, never more so than in the characters’ duet in Act I, “Take Me As I Am.”
But it’s Caitlyn Caughell’s performance as the doomed prostitute Lucy that nearly steals the show. If the character’s early moments of bawdiness come off a little polite, when the character’s sweetness is revealed in her interactions with Jekyll, Caughell shines. Her rendition of the show’s best known number, “Someone Like Me,” is achingly lovely, and her sexually charged duet with Hyde in Act II exudes a real frisson of danger. The ensemble as a whole is excellent, though they sometimes strain to overcome the orchestration; although individually micced, it is at times difficult to understand the lyrics over the music.
The costumes (designed by Tammy Spencer) are a fairly straightforward blend of the pseudo-Victorian goth mixed with steampunk frequently seen in productions of this piece, but they reinforce the underlying idea of facades and false fronts — characters in the ensemble transition from playing denizens of the lowest of London’s underbelly to the elite with quick, minor costume changes.
All in all, the cast and crew have worked to mine the depths of the musical and to overcome its shortcomings to offer up a production that is more than the sum of its parts; if the musical itself is somewhat lacking, this production comes as near as possible to making you forget its flaws and be simply swept away.