Sunday, October 15, 2017

Jekyl & Hyde: The Musical

I have to stop attending all of these shows. It makes me write too much.

So, yeah, Saturday night, Denise and I caught the third part of my weekend trifecta, Jekyll & Hyde: The Musical at the Noel S. Ruiz Theatre at the CM Performing Arts Center in Oakdale. I didn't realize it when I bought the tickets, but it was opening night, so the theater was packed.

Now it's been awhile since I've been to this particular theater. In fact, the last time was before it was called the Noel S. Ruiz Theatre. I'm pretty sure the last show I saw my was a children's production of Peter Pan, in which my niece played a few different roles. Prior to that, I think the last adult show I saw there was Into the Woods a few years back.

Some things seem to have changed besides the name. The biggest is that in the back of the theater in the center, there's a section with tables and chairs, so the people sitting there are in a sort of dinner theater setting. (Unless it was just set up that way because it was Jekyll & Hyde's opening night, which is possible, I suppose).

Now I've never seen this show before, although I do have the original Broadway Cast Soundtrack album. But this is one of those shows that the authors never seem to stop tinkering with, so some of the songs are different. (I also own the DVD version, which stars David Hasselhoff, but for some reason, I've yet to watch it -- maybe because of the Hoff.) The play features music by Frank Wildhorn and a book and lyrics by Leslie Bricusse, and although it was somewhat successful on Broadway, running for almost 4 years, I notice that the show, and the creators, are kind of the Rodney Dangerfield's of Broadway -- they don't get much respect. Perhaps that's because, according to Wikipedia, the show somehow managed to lose money in spite of its long run.

Anyway, I'd rate it as a decent show -- not great, but certainly an acceptable night of entertainment.

Denise and I were sitting in the back left side of the theater, and whether it was due to the acoustics of the theater or my own hearing, except for a few members of the cast, the sound was a little muddy for most of the night. (We sat in virtually the same place, and I had the same trouble, with Peter Pan, but I'm pretty sure that was because most of the kids don't know how to project.) In addition, the play is lit somewhat dimly throughout, which I'm sure was done to set the mood (and rightly so). In any event, I enjoyed the show, but I wish I'd bought tickets on a less crowded night so I could have sat closer to the stage.

Two members of the cast really stood out for me. One was Katie Ferretti, who played Jekyll's fiancee Emma Crew. She had a lovely soprano voice that projected quite nicely, and she definitely made the most of her role.

The star of the show, though, was Casey Manning, who played the dual role of Jekyll and Hyde, and he was amazing. The guy has a powerful and pleasing voice, and he can hold a note like you wouldn't believe. There's one song near the end of the play, "Confrontation", where he basically faces off against himself, going back and forth as his two dueling personalities fight for dominance. It was a ridiculously good performance.

Nicole Fragala as Lucy, the burlesque dancer who loves Jekyll and is victimized by Hyde, has some good moments, but I couldn't understand her consistently, so her performance seemed just okay to me. However, in her defense, I have to say that the audience went crazy for her, cheering wildly after each of her songs and giving her the biggest ovation at the end of the night other than the one for Manning. My wife also thought she was excellent, and seemed to feel that the sound issues were due to a problem with her mic. Denise is a singer and a former theater kid, so I'll defer to her judgment and give Ms. Fragala the benefit of the doubt.

The rest of the cast members were pretty good, but Manning and Ferretti were the only ones I could hear consistently. Robins Phophete, who played the part of Utterson, Jekyl's lawyer and best friend, looked and acted the part perfectly, but he was particularly marble-mouthed. I couldn't understand almost anything he sang.

In spite of these sound problems, it was an enjoyable night of theater. It was well sung, atmospheric and well directed. (I also notice that Ashley Nicastro, whose work I always enjoyed with the Cultural Arts Playhouse, is the theater's new choreographer, which was nice to see). And the musicians were quite good too (which is new to me here. The last show I saw featured canned music).

So how did Friday night and Saturday night compare? It's a tough call. I enjoyed both shows, for different reasons. Man of La Mancha is by far the superior vehicle to my way of thinking, but then again, Jekyll & Hyde, at 20 years old, is by far the fresher play -- Man of La Mancha has been kicking around the local and community theater circuit for a far longer time. Both casts were good. Jekyll & Hyde had less disturbing violence. (Zinger alert!) Anyway, each of the two shows had more than enough good qualities to make them worthwhile.

Jekyll & Hyde is running through November 4, so you have more than enough time to catch this fine show.


Addendum: I just read a review of this performance on Broadwayworld.com, and it seems that unbeknownst to me, the part of Lucy was played by the understudy, Samantha Rosario, on the night I saw the play. (I didn't hear any announcements to that effect, but I'm guessing that Broadwayworld.com has accurate information about this.) So my apologies to Ms. Fragala and Ms. Rosario for getting it wrong.