Jekyll & Hyde – The Musical
Empire Theatre, Eden Court, Inverness, 13 March 2013
IF THERE is one thing guaranteed to get my back up when going to a show that I do not know, it is to sit in my seat and open a nice glossy programme booklet to read up about the show before it starts only to find that someone has decided that the pages containing all the crucial information should be black, with small white, and sometimes red, lettering.
I WONDER if whoever came up with that thought at all about whether the audience would be able to read it in normal pre-performance auditorium lighting, let alone in the subdued lighting that had been decreed to reflect the darkness of the show.
Before going to Eden Court, what I had found out about this adaptation of the Robert Louis Stevenson novella was that there had been a few tours of the United States, followed by a four-year run on Broadway during which it haemorrhaged a king’s ransom and failed to attract any stellar reviews from the critics. There was also a UK tour in 2011 featuring a certain Mr Marti Pellow from the popular ensemble known as Wet Wet Wet, but it never reached the West End.
The fact that Leslie Bricusse, who has made such a huge contribution to musical theatre, mostly during his partnership with Anthony Newley, was responsible for the lyrics boded well. Sadly, Frank Wildhorn, one of the pair behind the original show, decided not to use Bricusse for the music but to write it himself. A competent composer would have finished it before breakfast and had it published by lunchtime as “Variations on a Simple Motif”.
So what made the normally reliable Inverness Opera Company decide to try and make a silk purse out of the sow’s ear of this pig of a piece of musical theatre? The fact that the company had a lead actor in James Twigg who was capable of carrying off the hugely demanding dual title role, and carrying it off extremely well, would have been one factor. Another would have been the dozen or so supporting roles available for the stalwarts of Inverness Opera and thirdly there was a substantial amount of chorus involvement for all the other members.
James Twigg was on stage very nearly from start to finish, either as the urbane and charming Dr Henry Jekyll or as his drug induced, schizophrenic, evil alter ego Edward Hyde. Both faces were equally accomplished although perhaps Hyde succeeded in slaughtering his victims with insufficient effort. His musical highlight came just as he was about to enter his laboratory to begin experimenting on himself. “This Is The Moment” is a crescendo based on the original motif of practically all the music in the show but Twigg delivered it well from the opening piano right through to the final fortissimo.
As co-starring ladies, Jekyll has his fiancée Emma Carew played by Sasha Devine, a slightly two-dimensional character with occasional flashes of independence and determination, while Hyde has the lady of the night Lucy Harris, played by Lesley MacLean with a good amount of feistiness and the two best songs of the show, “Bring On The Men”, and “A New Life”, both of which diverge from the basic motif.
The supporting characters read like a Who’s Who of Inverness Opera and all of them, young and not-so-young, played and sang their roles to the hilt. Lucy’s co-workers at the Red Rat, a house of ill repute, had to dance as well as sing and showed great ability with Caroline Nicol’s choreography. The members of the chorus performed well, with just the right degree of animation, and their delivery of “Murder, Murder” to open the second act was one of the highlights of the evening.
For the most part the set and costumes were hired in, but the slick stagecraft shown by George Reynolds and his team, and the atmospheric dressing under the direction of Wardrobe Mistress Marian Armstrong and her assistants all contributed to a very professionally presented performance.
And last but certainly not least, the Orchestra, under MD Fiona Stuart, provided a steady and reliable, if unobtrusive accompaniment to what was going on above their heads on the stage. Come Saturday night they are going to have been driven to distraction by that repetitive motif.
The past few years have shown the high standard that Inverness Opera normally achieves with shows like Anything Goes, Titanic or Guys and Dolls. The track record of Jekyll & Hyde should have warned that this is a show that lacks audience appeal, a fact born out by the Empire Theatre being scarcely a third full on opening night. One of the readable pages in the programme says that this musical was “Conceived for the stage by Steve Cuden and Frank Wildhorn”. Somebody should have told them about contraception.
© James Munro, 2013