The stage fills with smoke and coloured light as Victorian London emerges – the grubby reality of streets, the seedy faux glamour of brothels, counterpointed with the dry calm of a sitting room, the charm of a ballroom and the mysteries of a laboratory. We are firmly in Les Miserables country (although that’s the French equivalent, of course) with a dose of Oliver! and Sweeney Todd thrown in. And Frank Wildhorn’s Jekyll and Hydemusic variously reminds me of all three.
Scott Highway, who is rarely off stage in the huge title roles, is the star of this show in every sense. He is a very good actor who manages the transitions between the earnest, honest, tidily coiffed Jekyll and the cackling, evil, manic, shaggy-locked Hyde with total conviction. Actors are meant to ‘present truth’ and that’s exactly what Highway does. Also a remarkable singer, Highway has an almost Pavarottian ability to sustain a long – and often quite high - note for bar after bar at the ends of songs, building momentum as he goes in apparent defiance of all the laws of biology and physics. His is an outstanding performance by any standards – and I review a great deal of professional theatre.
Debbie Brennan’s Lucy Harris is a highly accomplished piece of work too. She can do anything from spiky, immaculately articulated wit in the brothel scene, in which she cavorts and entices, by managing each accelerando and reprise with terrific poise, to full belt and a great deal of top notch acting through song, including the evocation of a great deal of sadness and poignancy. And there’s a fine performance from Rebecca Lehmann as Emma Carew, Jekyll’s hapless fiancée whose clear, bell-like, professional-standard soprano singing is a great asset to the show.
Musical Director Peter Bailey directs a superbly competent band – concealed behind an upstage curtain and not ‘discovered’ until the curtain call – and controls the singing beautifully. The impassioned quartet sung by Chas Alder (as Sir Danvers Carew), Scott Highway, Rebecca Lehmann and Tarquin Flanagan (as John Utterson) is a highspot, for example. So is the duet by Lehmann and Brennan in the second act.
Another star of this show is choreographer Emma Hodge who, working in the Hazlitt’s quite small playing area, moves her vibrant young chorus in such a way that the space seems much larger. The crowd scenes and the one in the brothel are some of the best things in the show. Watch out for Rae Hume too. She plays Nellie, the lead prostitute, but who has enough stage presence and talent to make her stand out even in this high quality show.
I have seen this version of Jekyll and Hyde by Leslie Bricusse and Frank Wildhorn before and not liked it much – which all goes to show that a production’s success lies in what you do with the material. So congratulations Gillingham Dramatic Society. You’ve won me over.