The original musical played Broadway from 1997 to 2001, with 1,543 regular performances. It was nominated for a number of awards, won a couple of the Drama Desk awards, wasn't particularly well reviewed, and lost money, which may help explain why it's rather obscure, although it has toured.
Not surprisingly, given the subject matter, one can see influences of both "Phantom of the Opera" and "Sweeney Todd". Georgie and I both noticed musical and stylistic similarities to "The Scarlet Pimpernel," and I'm not surprised to discover that Frank Wildhorn is the composer of both shows. (Wildhorn seems to specialize in adapting classic literary properties for the musical stage. His credits also include "Svengali", "Dracula," "Cyrano De Bergerac, The Musical," and "The Count of Monte Cristo.") The best known song from the piece is "This Is The Moment," which I recognized, perhaps from the Olympic Games, where it has become a popular theme.
The book of the musical, by Leslie Bricusse, adds a number of ideas to Robert Louis Stevenson's story that I think work well. The musical opens with Dr. Jeykll (Ryan Stajmiger) standing over a sedated mental patient strapped down on a gurney. In the song "Lost in the Darkness" Jeykll sings of his desire to find a cure for the man, who, we find at the end of the song, is his father. This gives Jeykll's goal of driving out evil from human nature a focus and a practical application (although the rather nebulous connection between "madness" per se and "evil") is never expanded upon.
Jeykll appeals to the Board of Governors of St. Jude's Hospital to be allowed to experiment upon a human subject, but his request is denied. (This is interesting, since the board, consisting of a Bishop, a General, a lawyer, and two of the nobility, in fact all have vested interests in seeing Jeykll fail. What need would there be for churches if mankind returns to an unfallen state? What would happen to the professions of the law and the army? Whom would the nobility feel morally superior to?) Of course they all couch their objections as the process being "too dangerous."
Denial of access to an experimental subject leads to the action we all know of. In this show the transformation into "Edward Hyde" was done by the simple expedient of Stajmiger releasing his long hair from its tie-back, accompanied by changes in expression, posture and voice that were well done and consistently maintained through the performance. (This reminds me of the famous silent-film treatment by John Barrymore, who only added a wig to become Hyde.) Hyde embarks on a career of vice which ends the first act with his brutal murder of the hypocritical Bishop.
The second act continues Hyde's murder spree taking revenge on the St. Jude's Governors. Meanwhile, Jeykll struggles to bring the incubus under control, with his pending marriage to Emma (Vanessa Libbey), daughter of Jeykll's friend, Sir Danvers Carew, adding desperation and an element of "Frankenstein" to the story.
This whole production was very impressive. The sets were particularly nice (although I didn't really understand the inclusion of the hanging mirror in Jeykll's lab, which seemed only a distraction. Considerable effort went into the costuming for the large cast, although it was evident that many pieces were catch-as-catch-can, with the result that Jeykll wears an evening cutaway coat through out the show, including to a morning meeting, and Sir Danvers Carew wears a morning coat, including to an evening party. Overall, things read well and the effect was enjoyable.
Ryan Stajmiger, a senior, could have a good career ahead of him if he decides to pursue either acting or music. He has a powerful tenor voice that was always right on. He is a skillful and athletic actor who managed the dual role marvelously well, including a Sméagol/Gollum-like mirror debate between Jeykll and Hyde that was managed with the help of no special effects other than changes of light. Equally good were the two female leads, Vanessa Libbey as Emma Carew, singing a role that might have been written for Sarah Brightman, and Magdelyn Monahan as Lucy, the bar girl/prostitute who becomes a victim of Hyde's depredations.
The supporting cast sang, danced, and acted to a very high standard for a high school production generally, although of course some performers were weaker than others. The orchestra for the performance maintained a good level of dynamics and solid tempos throughout the show. The only significant flaw in the performance was the brass section, with both the horn and the trumpets being noticeably out of tune at times.
Performances continue March 26 and 27 at 7:30PM at Wauwatosa East High School. Tickets are $10.00 and may be purchased by check in the Wauwatosa East High School office during regular school hours, or by credit card by calling 773-2110, or at the door.