The formula works a tad too well — one hefty gulp creates a wicked alter ego who dubs himself Edward Hyde. And a serious case of schizophrenia is far from Jekyll's only concern. He is engaged to marry the endearing Emma Carew (Colette R. Phelps) but lusts after a sultry back-alley prostitute (Melissa T. O'Keefe as Lucy Harris). Meanwhile, Hyde embarks on a vicious killing spree, dispatching of the upper-crust lords and ladies who refused Jekyll's request.
Director/choreographer George Quick does a terrific job considering the 20-person cast and numerous set changes. He draws inspired performances from even bit-part players and, with the help of musical director Matthew Mattei, keeps everyone in tune and on point.
The key to this unique rendition of "Jekyll & Hyde" is the ensemble (of which Weekly arts editor Rebecca Wallace is a member). The terrific cast is so cohesive that dialogue, song and character changes occur with absolute fluidity. There's an obvious trust on stage, which permeates the audience and sparks a sense of unparalleled teamwork. When Hyde tosses a necklace to a "blind" beggar, she snags it out of the air as though an invisible chord linked the two. The brief moment demonstrates a crystal-clear chemistry.
McCormick — who resembles Kevin Smith of "Clerks" fame — turns in a marvelous performance bursting with emotional diversity. His Jekyll is proper yet humble, simultaneously sophisticated and simple. But he really gets to have fun with the snarling Edward Hyde. McCormick writhes and growls his way through the role, committing his entire physical and vocal presence to the brooding character.
O'Keefe nearly steals the show out from under McCormick's hard-working feet. Her hypnotic voice punctuates the quiet crowd and eclipses those of her talented cast mates. But the harmonic chorus backs McCormick, O'Keefe and Phelps beautifully, especially on numbers like "Bring on the Men" (which is by far the play's finest tune, spearheaded by O'Keefe).
Costume and set changes are seamless. Even when the stage is dark the actors stay in character while shifting furniture or tugging curtains. From a hospital ward to a brothel to the streets of London, set transitions are as smooth as a marble tabletop. A walkway above the stage (which acts a bridge, among other uses) is utilized beautifully, especially when Hyde chillingly crosses it with those below unaware of his presence.
The score doesn't fare quite as well. Some repetitive, pop-infused songs feel plucked from the reels of an animated Disney film. It would seem almost natural for Cinderella or Snow White to step on stage and start signing. "This is the moment," "Sympathy, Tenderness" and "Facade" will make one wonder: "Do I recognize that melody from 'Aladdin' or 'The Lion King'?" Although the orchestra is powerful and pitch-perfect, the conductor's hands occasionally pop up from the pit in front of the stage and become slightly distracting. Perhaps a pair of gloves would benefit the actors and the audience.
Costuming is primarily magnificent, but one questionable decision had this critic scratching his head. When Hyde appears, his disheveled hair obscures his face and he sports a trenchcoat. Seems like an apropos look for Mr. Hyde. But on closer inspection, the trenchcoat is made of a shimmering transparent fabric — not the most masculine attire for an intimidating serial killer.
The lighting is flawed, either through direction or technical challenges. One scene in the second act that has Jekyll talking to his trusted friend John Utterson (John Brewer) is hardly lit at all. The actors may as well be speaking off stage. And use of a backstage smoke machine creates an ominous atmosphere. When the smoke machine is overused though, the stage resembles a wild KISS concert.
"Jekyll & Hyde" holds important parallels to addiction — the idea of consuming a substance (think alcohol) that in excess can transform you into a different (often darker) person. It's an important moral lesson, and the Palo Alto Players employ a fantastic cast and top-notch production values to creatively teach it.
It may occasionally sound like Disney, but this elegant musical is far more mature.
What: "Jekyll & Hyde," a musical presented by Palo Alto Players.
Where: Lucie Stern Theater, 1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto.
When: Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m.; Sunday matinees at 2:30 p.m.; through May 13.
Cost: Tickets are $26-$30.
Info: Call 650-329-0891 or go to www.paplayers.org.
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