PAYSON — I have several friends in the cast and crew of Payson Community Theater’s production of Jekyll and Hyde, so I quickly requested the opportunity to review the show. I want to say I loved the show. Alas, I can’t say that. However, I can say I liked it, and the things I liked, I loved. There is much in the show that is praiseworthy.
First and foremost, the leads in the show are spectacular. Steve Dunford, who plays Henry Jekyll/Edward Hyde, has the voice of a superstar. This is not an easy role to do well. First, you have to be the dedicated if not a little compulsive Dr. Jekyll, whose passion for eradicating evil in the world clouds his good judgment. When he is singing as the good doctor, Dunford is believable as a likeable man, though one who has a few issues with control perhaps. When Dunford is the evil murdering Mr. Hyde, his voice is gruff, harsh, and yet still gorgeous. It’s like chocolate—you really can’t ever have enough. Sometimes the chocolate is milk—smooth and sweet. Sometimes it’s dark—almost bitter and yet tantalizing. Dunford’s dual voices are both sublime. When Dunford starts swinging his long hair back and forth in “The Confrontation”, I actually saw the transformation back and forth, back and forth from the pleading, desperate Jekyll and the horrifically evil Hyde. I wish I’d gotten Dunford’s autograph, because when he is a star on Broadway, or his first album goes platinum, I’d like proof that I can say: “I saw him in little ol’ Payson, Utah before he made it big.”
Emma Carew, played by Marilyn Morgan, sings and acts superbly. She opens her mouth, she moves across the stage, and it’s like nobody else is there. I watched her constantly in every scene she was in. Her synergy with Dunford wasn’t perfect and that was a problem. They are supposed to be in love and engaged to be married. But I will get into that in a more general sense later in my review.
Rebeckah Pehrson plays Lucy Harris, and she, too, has an amazing voice and is graceful and pleasing onstage. I personally feel that this character got a pretty raw deal, and not because she is the “bad girl” of the show. Lucy is a prostitute who sings in a cabaret and her number “Bring on the Men” is the slightest bit racy, but Pehrson makes it cute, not skanky. However, Lucy gets a raw deal because, number one, since Jekyll and Hyde takes place in England, Lucy, being of a lower class, would have spoken in a Cockney accent. Because nobody uses a British accent in this show (and I have to wonder why), Lucy’s lines are a little odd spoken in a Utah County accent. The ain’t’s and the other colloquialisms she is asked to say don’t make much sense without their Cockney roots. Also, Lucy has several solos, which are sung so beautifully, but unfortunately, she has been relegated to singing most of her numbers sitting down—either on a set of stairs in the middle of the stage, or on a bed. More on the sitting down issue follows.
Rounding out the Top Four Actors is Perry Ewell, who plays John Utterson. I found myself looking forward to any scene that had Ewell in it. Ewell is perfect for the part—he plays the rather persnickety, prim friend of Dr. Jekyll’s with a quiet, caring manner. I totally believed that John and Henry were really friends. I am willing to surmise this is because these two fine performers know a thing or two about character development.
Some of the other singers in the ensemble had pretty good voices, some not so much, but that’s expected in a community theater production. One woman—I wish I knew her name—had an amazing set of pipes and her high soprano notes practically blew the roof off of Payson High School’s Little Theater. I hope she reads this review and knows I’m talking about her. She deserves serious props.
The other thing I adored in the show were the costumes, which were exquisite. Every one, from the scullery maid, to the (rather modest) dance hall costumes, to the hoity toity proper English lady and gentlemen get-ups were all amazing. I would have loved to be in this show just to be able to wear one of those gorgeous gowns. There was one costume issue that didn’t work for me, though. Spider, played by director Michael Carrasco, is dressed up in what my son would call Steam Punk garb. For those who don’t know what that is, it’s sort of a long-haired, round sunglasses, top hat, long dark coat grunge look. Spider looked suitably creepy (he’s Lucy’s pimp), but the costume was too similar to Hyde’s long stringy black hair and dark coat and so it took away from Hyde’s disturbing appearance.
This, however, is where my praise ceases. There were numerous issues that really brought the show down. But this was the biggest problem: the show was boring. I know, you wonder, how can a show about a man who drinks a potion that takes him from an educated, caring, passionate doctor to a crazed murderer be boring? Well, one issue was the blocking.
For those who aren’t in the theater, blocking is how the director instructs the actors’ movements—where to stand, where to move, what to do when they’re on the stage in any way. Payson’s Jekyll and Hyde has such poor blocking that most of the scenes were either two people standing face-to-face singing at each other (not even standing in a three-quarter turn to ‘cheat’ and look more face front to the audience), or on opposite sides of the stage singing at each other. I use the word “at” not “to” because that’s what it looked like—not two characters in a compelling story singing together, but more like two strangers who don’t care for one another who happen to be singing the same song. Not only was this boring, but it took away from the possibility of me investing in the story. When Jekyll and his intended Emma are on the stage, they announce their engagement while they are standing about five feet away from one another! Because of this seemingly small staging mishap at the beginning of the show, I never believed these two ever really loved one another. The tender song where Emma is singing about how much she loves her fiancé felt completely improbable to me. If she loved him that much, why wasn’t she snuggling against him when they told the world about their plans to marry? The duets themselves when the Jekyll and Emma (and Emma and Lucy) were singing were technically perfect. But they, as with most of the show, seemed more like songs in a concert, not lively, filled with movement and passion numbers in a musical theater production. Another blocking problem, as I mentioned before, Lucy (as well as several other singers) sat through most of their songs. I began to roll my eyes and sigh every time someone sat down while singing.
The whole show had a problem with the actors not having enough to do. In most scenes, the set (created by set designers Michael Carrasco and Steve Twede) was almost non-existent, so there was nowhere for the actors to go. Actors rarely had props. (An exception was John Utterson, who was lucky enough to hold his hat and cane in several scenes. Maybe that’s why I liked watching him so much.)
I was also disappointed with the opening of the show, which opens with Jekyll singing to his dying father. I wanted more movement from the grieving doctor. There was little going on, and since there was no set decoration, it provided a rather static beginning to the show. I hadn’t really realized the importance of set design until this show. There were only for this show. One of them consisted of a living room with a fireplace, and I found myself actually relaxing into those scenes. But for most of the play there wasn’t much scenery, so the delicious costumes were in front of the black walls and a big white curtain. These scenes reminded me of the huge screens we used to watch in my elementary school’s auditorium, and in this environment the costumes looked a little garish instead of part of a luxurious scene.
There was a set (of sorts)—the laboratory. It was cool, until I realized that Dr. Jekyll approached the table covered with medicine bottles and turned his back to the audience to produce his evil concoction. I had hoped that he would go behind the table, pour various substances into vials that then changed colors. I was eager to see some dry ice smoky stuff in one of the beakers on the table. I was expecting the mad scientist routine, which would have delighted me. When Dr. Jekyll turned his back to us, and then turned around with little fanfare to drink a tiny vial of liquid, I was quite disappointed. The scene could have been so cool—spooky, intriguing, maybe a little clichéd, but in a way I could appreciate and enjoy. In fact, many times the actors turned their backs to the audience and it was uncomfortable to watch. It’s like the life went out of the scene.
One of the other issues I struggled with is the hype that I heard before the show, that this was an edgy project and kids under eight shouldn’t come because of the subject matter, led me to believe that this show would be, well, a little creepy. Now, I don’t go see horror movies, and I don’t read horror or scary novels. But I felt a little inner thrill that I was going to go to Jekyll and Hyde and get a little scared, and maybe even a little grossed out. So, I was woefully disappointed. There was no blood, and I wondered if this was because I actually attended the final dress rehearsal and they didn’t want the fuss and muss of cleaning fake blood out of costumes. But according to one of my crew member friends, there will be no blood in this show. During the numerous murder scenes, those victims are the quietest, most patient victims in the world. There was no fighting back, no blood-curdling screams. Hey—they’re being killed, after all. Let’s see some passion in this, some loss. I found myself thinking, “Ho hum. Another murder.” Along those lines, when Spider attacks Lucy, it didn’t seem like he was that mean to her. She is supposed to be super afraid of Spider and that’s why she seeks a friendship with Dr. Jekyll. I’d like to have seen more passion and even violence in that scene.
I applaud Payson Community Theater for attempting to do a show that is even slightly controversial in this rather conservative area. But my feeling is, if you want to be daring and do a provocative show, do it. There is a recommendation by Payson Community Theater that small children shouldn’t come to this show. Well, since I believe this should be the case for all shows except those that are specifically for the toddler/kindergarten set, I don’t see any reason why children who can sit still would be afraid in this show. If they’ve seen one fight scene on TV or the movies, they won’t be shocked with what goes on in Payson Community Theater’s Jekyll and Hyde.
The choreography was weak, though this isn’t a dance-driven show. But I wanted the one dance, “Bring on the Men,” to have more spunk. The choreography, by director Michael Carrasco, assistant director Colleen Corrasco, and Nicole Lundquist, was very simple and rather tame. I’m not saying I wanted some sexy number, but I would have liked to see something more in keeping with the time the show takes place, in the late 1900s.
Finally, I have a concern that isn’t usually something I find in theater performances. I know it isn’t Payson Community Theater’s fault. Payson High School is refurbishing their large auditorium, so Jekyll and Hyde was performed in Payson High’s Little Theater, a space I actually really liked. It was also new and looked up to date and clean and cozy. But it has no built-in seats. So we audience members were sitting on school chairs. The chairs we sat in were so uncomfortable that I went home with a backache. My husband really suffered, but the other two people who were with me said they didn’t mind the chairs so much, but the strobe lights gave them headaches. Note to patrons—if you see this show, shut your eyes during the strobe light if this kind of thing bothers you. It really is intense.
To sum up, I found myself comparing the show I saw with what I had hoped to see. I wanted more. However, I will end this review with a positive. I went with three other people to this show. My husband, who actually is a guest reviewer for UTBA, liked the show very much. My friend and fellow actress was often bored. Her husband, on the other hand, who simply likes to go and watch live theater, enjoyed the show. So, if I were to do a thumbs up/thumbs down for this show, I’d say out of us four, we have two give a thumbs up, and two give a half-thumbs up.
And be sure to ask for Steve Dunford’s autograph.