Jekyll and Hyde The Musical

Jekyll and Hyde The Musical is probably the most famous musical you’ve never seen. Anthony Warlow released recordings of some of the songs from the show, and headlined a star-studded cast for a 25th Anniversary concert version which toured Sydney and Melbourne in 2019. The Canberra Philharmonic Society produced its own concert version in the Canberra Theatre in 2001.

Loosely based on the turgid Robert Louis Stevenson 1886 novella, The Strange case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, set in a 19th century insane asylum, the storyline is centred on the horrifying results of Dr Henry Jekyll’s experiments on himself in an attempt to uncover the cause of his father’s madness.

Bricusse and Wildhorn interpreted this story as a full-scale musical with soaring arias and choruses of operatic proportions. However the Broadway production of Jekyll and Hyde The Musical received generally luke-warm reviews. Despite running for more than 1500 performances it still managed to lose over $1.5 million by the time it closed on Broadway.

The musical was revised and re-arranged for national tours around America, but a full professional production of the show has never been achieved in Australia. That is, until this drastically cut-down version at The Hayes Theatre.

Having achieved an enviable reputation as a leading man in major musicals in Australia and on the West End, Hayden Tee has turned his attention to directing. For this, his first production, Tee’s inspired concept is to set the entire action in a single setting; a military mental hospital in 1947, for which Melanie Liertz has provided a deceptively simple atmospheric setting which makes the tiny Hayes Theatre stage look much bigger than it actually is.

Hayes Theatre Cast of Jekyll and Hyde The Musical photo by Phil ErbacherAudacious casting decisions have resulted in a remarkable ensemble cast of brilliant singers, character actors and musicians who, costumed by Mason Browne in drab hospital garb, become the staff and protagonists who inhabit Liertz’s strangely unsettling environment. Some portray more than one character. Some play musical instruments including guitar, double bass and accordion. All participate in the ensemble numbers.

Enhancing this concept Nigel Ubrihien has created an extraordinarily beautiful reduction of the original score, based on two cellos, one on either side of the stage, and two keyboards. Other instruments played by members of the cast are added as required for texture.

At this particular performance the cellists were Olivia Wilding and Julienne Guerbois with Steven Kramer and Kris King on keyboards. Ubrihien’s arrangements also involve the entire cast in lush acapella moments and full throated choral choruses, which given the makeup of the cast, are constantly thrilling.

For the most part this all works amazingly well, but if you are not familiar with the source material, confusion as to the motivations of some of the characters is hard to avoid. In my case, not having seen the musical or even a concert version previously, I was not aware that Jekyll’s close friend, Utterson for instance is a male character, so despite the excellent performance of Madeleine Jones, costumed as a fetching female nurse, initially wearing an un-laced straight-jacket and with mannerisms which suggested she had been the subject of previous experiments herself, I found myself puzzling over elements of her relationship with Jekyll.

Seemingly cast against type, Brendan MacLean is riveting in the dual roles of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Adopting a snake-like demeanor his decent into madness is chillingly depicted and deeply unsettling. His singing is magnificent, especially his interpretation of the big showstopper, This is the moment which begins almost as a whisper.

Having been lucky enough to have experienced Georgina Hopson’s starring performances in Opera Australia’s My Fair Lady, The Production Company’s Ragtime, and the HOSH production of The Phantom of the Opera, it was fascinating in the intimacy of the Hayes theatre to observe the detail she brings to her performance as Jekyll’s hapless fiancé, Emma Carew; and although her crystalline soprano is as impressive as ever, it is the extraordinary trans actor Brady Peeti, as the prostitute, Lucy Harris, the other woman in Jekyll’s life, who steals the vocal honours.

Hayes-Theatre-Brady-Peeti-and-the-cast-of-Jekyll-&-Hyde-photo-by-Phil-ErbacherThe depth and conviction Peeti achieves with her haunting rendition of Someone Like You towards the end of the show, is astonishingly touching, and neatly encapsulates Lucy’s journey in a memorable theatrical tour de force.

But this production is awash with memorable performances among them Rutene Spooner’s beautifully sung Sir Danvers Carew, the seething malevolence of Mitchell Cox’s Spider and Mitch Roberts’ clever turn with double bass while maintaining character as Proops.

All stay in the memory along with Melanie Bird’s perky Nellie, Luke Leong-Tay’s Bishop of Basingstoke, Sarah Murr’s powerful Lady Beaconsfield and the committed ensemble contributions by Gus Noakes, Billie Palin and Matthew Predney.

The Hayes Theatre has built its reputation on producing brilliant re-imaginings of major musicals. Jekyll and Hyde The Musical is a worthy addition to this enviable repertoire.

Jekyll and Hyde The Musical
Hayes Theatre Co, 19 Greenknowe Avenue, Potts Point
Performance: Thursday 4 August 2022
Season continues to 27 August 2022
Information and Bookings:

Images: Brendan MacLean | Cast of Jekyll and Hyde The Musical | Brady Peeti and the Cast of Jekyll and Hyde The Musical – all photos by Phil Erbacher

Review: Bill Stephens OAM