‘Jekyll & Hyde’ was fearsome.
Nineteenth century London – a world in the midst of technological and social evolution. It is into this context that Dr Henry Jekyll steps, intent upon transforming humanity’s embodiment of good and evil. What ensues is a story of love, desire and passion … with madness treading closely in their wake.
‘Jekyll and Hyde’, with book and lyrics by Leslie Bricusse, and music by Frank Wildhorn, was first produced off Broadway in 1990 to great acclaim. Phoenix Ensemble’s production of this epic musical brings the world of ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ to life, in an immersive and thought-provoking show that is sure to linger on in hearts and minds.
The affectionately nicknamed ‘Tin Shed’ that Phoenix Ensemble calls home once again shows its penchant for transformation. With set design by Justin Tubb-Hearne, audience members are transported as soon as they enter the theatre space. As the house lights went down, drawn curtains – designed with symbolic allusions to the action that would follow – parted to reveal rustic wooden structures that would serve as an open and versatile space for the action to take place. Jekyll’s workshop design was an ingenious use of space and design, being unobtrusive when it wasn’t required, but filled with detail when it was.
Details, such as the perfectly ominous soundscape (Mal Boal) and show programme which was printed as a newspaper (Benjamin Tubb-Hearne) added to the set design, allowing for no escape from the world we had entered.
The lighting design by Jason Gardner was excellent. With use of different lighting techniques, Gardner transformed the space from upper class homes, to dingy bars, and stormy streets, as well as drawing the eye during moments of split staging. The final image of an empty wedding podium, lit under a bright spotlight, with the distraught couple lit dimly beside it – a mere suggestion of what they might have been – lingers in the mind’s eye.
Justin Tubb-Hearne, as costume designer, created visually stunning pieces. Appropriate for the era, and the status of each character, the costumes told us stories about each person before they had even opened their mouths.
Directing a show of this scale is not for the light-hearted, though Elodie Boal excelled. Balancing time and place, a large cast, and a small theatre space, Boal orchestrated a show that was captivating from beginning to end. The blocking was clever as it utilised the varying levels in the set to create a sense of place, as well as to illustrate relationships, and symbolism could be found throughout. This was a production where no element was overlooked.
With music direction by Trenton Dunstan, there was rarely a note out of place. The band, consisting of Dunstan on keys 1, Benjamin Tubb-Hearne (keys 2), Laura Guiton (French Horn), Gabrielle Burton (Cello) and Jasmine Swanton (reeds), worked seamlessly with the cast to present the music of this legendary musical. Particular note must be taken of the ensemble songs, as they were executed with great musicality – the harmonies ringing throughout the theatre. While the music was great, it was let down by microphones that often cut out, and failed to capture the full depth of the singer’s voice.
The choreography, by Lauren Conway, was excellent. From dance numbers like ‘Bring on the Men’ to the slick choreographed movement in ‘Murder, Murder,’ Conway’s choreography heightened the energy in the room, and added greater impetus to the story telling.
Phoenix Ensemble’s ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ had a large cast, full to the brim with talented people. Michael Mills, in the title role, portrayed the tormented Dr Henry Jekyll with conviction. His transformation from the passionate, but gentle, Dr Jekyll, to the nightmarish Mr Hyde was particularly outstanding, as was his delivery of ‘The Confrontation’ at the end of Act 2.
Ebony Hamacek as Lucy Hale, and Kelly Cooper as Emma Carew were great in their respective roles, each portraying strong women at the mercy of their circumstances. Conveying softness, coupled with determination and love, Hamacek and Cooper celebrated both the similarities and differences of these women. Audiences could not help but feel sympathetic to their plight.
The assembled cast that made up the ensemble were highly impressive. Strong vocals, supported by capable dancing and excellent characterisation brought the world of ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ to life, as well as giving context to the action in the play.
Phoenix Ensemble’s production of ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ was fearsome. On the face of it – a tale of good versus evil, though at a much deeper level: a story that reflects upon the balance of good and evil present in humanity.
‘Jekyll and Hyde’ plays in the Tin Shed until Saturday, 9 November 2019. Tickets can be purchased at Phoenix Ensemble’s Website.
Disclaimer: Cast / Production Members working on this show also work and have worked for Theatre Haus, but rest assured, we always take steps to ensure our reviews maintain their integrity and are free from bias.