Sputtering for breath, a man gripped the edges of a cluttered desk. His shoulders writhed in pain, his anguished face let loose a terrified scream and finally his tortured body collapsed behind laboratory vials and beakers. In his place rose a maniacal, bloodthirsty being. This was the chilling transformation that took place on Briar Woods' stage during its haunting production of "Jekyll and Hyde."
Inspired by Robert Louis Stevenson's novel, this thrilling musical was brought to the Broadway stage by Frank Wildhorn and Steve Cuden. Set in 19th century England, the tale revolves around the risky experiment conducted by young scientist, Henry Jekyll, in the wake of his father's death. Jekyll uses himself as a test subject for the unnatural separation of good and evil in an individual and soon becomes uncontrollably possessed by his murderous counterpart, Mr. Edward Hyde.
BRIAR WOODS' unique decision to use two people to play the traditionally single-cast role of Jekyll and Hyde was impressively well-executed. Paul Burgess captured the tormented personality of Dr. Jekyll, tentatively recording his findings and becoming more agitated and disheveled as his research progressed. From the moment he first appeared on stage as the hostile Hyde, Aaron Hess's snarling voice and demented laughter brought a captivating intensity to the show. Both leading men had strong singing voices that demonstrated the clash between their warring characters.
The twisted plot thickens when love interests are added into the mix. Addie Schaffer as Jekyll's concerned, aristocratic fiancée Emma Carew was an absolute pleasure to listen to; her delicate voice met every pitch perfectly. Her part was contrasted by Natasha Abi-Najm's spunky portrayal of the harlot, Lucy Harris, who captures Jekyll's eye and clouds his conflicted heart. Other standout roles included Nellie (Megan Lamb), the vile manageress of the prostitutes and John Utterson (Brad Kimball), Jekyll's composed lawyer and close friend. Although the group numbers in the show's first act lacked some energy, the ensemble showcased stirring harmonies and increased passion during the second half, sending shivers through the audience with their cries of "Murder, Murder."
THE SET, consisting of a raised level with two staircases, was adroitly utilized by the actors, whether a frantic Jekyll was stumbling down the stairs or a fuming Hyde was leaping up the steps. A turntable placed center stage was a demanding and exciting choice, although it did lead to some awkward transitions. Creative elements were demonstrated throughout the production, such as having the line of murdered townspeople occupy the set's second level during the wedding scene and using a body double to make Hyde's character appear everywhere. The rousing music was overpowering at times but always on cue.
Briar Woods did a commendable job of producing a thought-provoking performance of "Jekyll and Hyde" with little difficulty.
"Jekyll & Hyde" will also be performed on Jan. 18 and 19, at 7 p.m. Don't miss it.