The Placer Performance Calendar


Great Local Shows - Theatrical Reviews

Title Jekyll & Hyde, the Musical
Organization Stand Out Talent
Date(s) of show October 16 - November 8, 2015
Reviewer Dick Frantzreb
Review I saw the musical, Jekyll & Hyde, at the Music Circus in 2007. I didn't like the production, and I remember almost nothing from it. In contrast, Stand Out Talent's production of this show is one I will never forget, especially the virtuoso performance in the title role by Jason Bortz.

The musical is based on Robert Louis Stevenson's novel, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in which Dr. Jekyll, in his effort to find a potion to separate the good and evil in human character so that the latter can be done away with forever experiments on himself, creating a split personality with tragic consequences. The musical debuted on Broadway in 1997 after an earlier run in Houston.

It may seem strange that a musical could succeed with such dark subject matter, but think about opera and all the tragic themes classical opera has dealt with. Indeed, this show frequently reminded me of opera. There are songs that come across like recitatives, and one quartet, "His Work and Nothing More" is very reminiscent of quartets or trios that I've seen in operas. Then there is the occasional spoken dialog that has a regular meter and rhyme. That's more Shakespearean than operatic, but what's most important is that both lyrics and dialog are so intelligent, so literate. It is a quality of writing well worth paying attention to. In fact I think it would be fun to read at least part of the script and dwell on some of the clever phrasing and interesting ideas that went by so fast as they were spoken or sung.

This show is full of smart, memorable songs, several of which are truly beautiful, and they were beautifully performed in this production. With all the singing required by the Jekyll and Hyde characters, it is critical that they be played by someone with an excellent voice, and Jason Bortz delivered. His vocal range spanned the extremes from intimate to powerful, with a dramatic intensity that stemmed from his acting ability. In fact, I heard a lot of excellent singing in this show, including in the ensemble numbers. But this is a show that needs many good individual voices and it got them in this cast. Co-director Jennifer Bortz as Lucy displayed her Broadway-quality voice in many numbers. And Sarah Knotts sang beautifully as Emma, though in the beginning she was miked too low to appreciate her good singing. Indeed, I found myself being impressed by one solo voice after another, and it's clear that Jason and Jennifer Bortz were fortunate to have assembled a cast with so many capable singers.

I've seen Jason Bortz in many other roles in recent years, but never one that seemed so suited for the display of his talent. There is a wonderful intensity about his acting, and this intensity comes through even when he’s speaking softly. To me, he is simply expert at delivering lines, and it was fascinating to watch him work. He has many different voices, and we saw the range of them in this show. As familiar as I've become with his work and his off-stage personality, his first transformation from Dr. Jekyll into Mr. Hyde gave me goosebumps and that was only the first time that happened in the show. He can be a dynamo, explosive and downright fearsome. And yet he plays the tortured soul very well, and his calm intensity can be riveting.

As much as the success of this show depends on the talent of the person playing Jekyll & Hyde, there was a lot more impressive acting. Jennifer Bortz delivered her usual fine performance as Lucy, as did Steve Campbell as lawyer John Utterson (especially when drunk). Really, all of the speaking parts were carried out by people who were very much into their characters, and I wish I had space to mention all of them.

There are 17 speaking parts and 16 more singers and dancers to fill out the cast. As I watched the introduction of the main characters, I thought that the casting of this show was nothing short of remarkable. And that impression was confirmed when I saw the full cast in ensemble numbers starting with “Façade.” There was an intensity and a commitment in each of these people that was reflected in their facial expressions and the way they moved. They were not “extras”; they were each actors, committed to their role. I wondered about this later, because I’ve seen productions where I’ve noticed some players who were either self-conscious or somehow disengaged. So what was unusual about this cast? I believe they knew that this show was really special: they were proud of it and of their part in it, and that translated to an intensity in their performance that certainly caught my attention.

There were many other excellences in this production. One was Jennifer Bortz' creative choreography, especially in the “Façade” and “Bring on the Men” and "Murder, Murder" numbers, each of which embodied so many interesting ideas. Even the costumes were noticeably good: period-appropriate and diverse. As for props, the chemical tray was truly impressive. And it may seem like a small matter, but I congratulate this company for the efficiency with which they, without the benefit of a curtain, changed sets quickly and efficiently in the dark.

Jason and Jennifer Bortz were co-directors of this production, and they came up with some wonderful staging ideas. One such idea came during the number when Hyde and Lucy were singing “Dangerous Game.” Way in the back of the theater, there were two pairs of dancers, each pair in a cube in which red light displayed them only in profile. While the song proceeded, these dancers took up a series of positions that seemed mildly erotic to me, eventually climbing nearby poles, all of it still erotic. This gave an sensual dimension to the song sung by Hyde and Lucy without requiring anything overtly suggestive on their parts. To me, this is how the genius of directors is displayed. Another clever touch was when Jekyll was first working with chemicals in his laboratory. He poured a clear liquid into glass container and it turned red. Then he poured the red liquid into another container and it turned green. Brilliant.

The murders were very effectively choreographed. That of Lucy, with blood evident on her white dress, was remarkably realistic. Then there was this. I'm sure it's a challenge to handle the "dialog" late in the show between Jekyll and Hyde. The one thing I remember from the Music Circus production was that character rotating his body 180 degrees to demonstrate the two personalities. In this production, the drama of that dialog was greatly enhanced by a live projection of Hyde's face on a video screen. Jekyll's lines came from a normal sized man; Hyde's came from a face enlarged 20 times so that there was no question we were looking at a true monster.

This is a big show in a small, intimate space that accentuates its dramatic impact. Jekyll & Hyde, the Musical is theatrical drama at its most intense, and this production is nothing less than a masterpiece. I urge you to see it before it closes because I doubt you'll see in any other staging of this show a better actor in the title role or a more committed cast.

 Reviews Home    Organizations    Shows