Next Generation Theatre Company's JEKYLL & HYDE: A Sensational Show With A Tragically Short Run

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Keith Boyer in Next Generation Theatre Company's JEKYLL AND HYDE, Photo Credit: J. Merkle Photography

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera is beloved by many, but there is a portion of the theatre-going public who believe it’s severely overrated. For those of you who fall into the latter category, there’s a wonderful production performing an all-too-short run at the Florissant Civic Center right now that might be the perfect alternative for the Phantom- weary audience. The Next Generation Theatre Company’s production of Jekyll and Hyde is a tremendously engaging show, but the final curtain for this run will fall on February 2, 2019, so you had better get your tickets as soon as possible.

The plot probably doesn’t need much explaining—surely you’ve encountered the tale in some form or another already. It’s based on an 1866 novella by Robert Lewis Stevenson and has inspired everything from cartoons (“Hyde and Hare” – Bugs Bunny, 1955) to pop music (“Dr. Heckyll and Mr. Jive” – Men At Work, 1983) as well as numerous television series and films. Like Phantom it’s a brooding story of twisted love amid the inner turmoil of tragic genius. The stage production, featuring Leslie Bricusse’s book and lyrics with music by Frank Wildhorn, premiered in 1990 and reached Broadway in 1997. Unlike Phantom, it’s actually entertaining with generally likeable characters, and the ones that aren’t real nice, well, Mr. Hyde takes care of that. 

Keith Boyer, who is a mainstay in the St. Louis Opera, classical vocal and musical theatre scene, plays the dual role of Dr. Henry Jekyll and Mr. Edward Hyde to perfection. As Jekyll, he’s driven but likeable, but as Hyde he’s horrifyingly savage. In Act II, Boyer’s performance reaches stratospheric heights as he sings as both Jekyll and Hyde, throwing himself all over the stage as his multiple personas come and go as if by the press of a button. It is a mesmerizing performance that will stick with me for a very long time. Boyer alone is worth the admission price, but his castmates are stellar too.

His love interests – one for each personality – are likewise opposites. Mica Tharp, one of several Next Generation regulars, who did a dynamite job with Disney’s Newsies last year, gets an even bigger chance to shine as Emma Carew, the good doctor’s well-heeled betrothed. Her lovely soprano brings sweetness to “Take Me As I Am” with Keith Boyer, depth of feeling to “Once Upon A Dream,” and blends beautifully with costar Jacqueline Roush on the haunting duet “In His Eyes.” Dressed to the nines in a Riley Crute dress, Tharp is the perfect choice for the loving fiancée.

Her secret rival, Lucy, is Emma’s polar opposite: a burlesque dancer whose flirtations with Dr. Jekyll are twisted to make her the object of Mr. Hyde’s sinister desires. Jacqueline Roush, upon arriving in St. Louis from her native Wisconsin, has quickly earned several standout roles, and Lucy is no exception. She juxtaposes Emma’s precise English diction with a solid and sustained Cockney accent and really stood out for her clear singing voice. Sometimes, to the average person in the audience, a classical/operatic voice may seem too concerned with the quality of the note they’re trying to hit than to the words themselves; it sounds beautiful but you don’t really know what they’re actually singing. Roush is easily understood whether she’s singing loud and strong as on “Bring On the Men” or soft and vulnerable as on “A New Life.”

The supporting cast is uniformly strong as well. Scott Degitz-Fries makes Jekyll’s friend and lawyer, John Utterson, a warm soul and the anchor for Jekyll’s slipping humanity. Jeffrey Heyl, another veteran of musical and vocal concert performances, plays Dir Danvers Carew, Emma’s father. MUNY and St .Louis Symphony Chorus stalwart Kay Love plays the vicious Lady Beaconsfield with a attitude that quickly earns Hyde’s ire. Jayde Mitchell does double duty as the less than holy Bishop of Basingstroke and Spider, the pimp/proprietor of the Red Rat Burlesque Club. So too does Ken Clark, whom I’ve only known to this point as a director. Here he’s Jekyll’s manservant Poole and General Lord Glossop, whom ensemble member Julia Gilbert dubbed “Cap’n Crunch.” John Robertson’s Lord Savage, Brandon Janssen’s Simon Stride, and Rich Dickerson’s Sir Archibald Proops round out the group that finds itself looking over its collective shoulder for Mr. Hyde.

Next Generation Theatre seems to have a knack for large and top notch ensembles, and Jekyll & Hyde’s “nameless” heroes will not go unrecognized for their energetic dancing, sharp voices and ability to move the plot from point to point. Take a bow Andrea Brown (for your work as dance captain, and the role of Nellie, take a few!), Cory Frank, Derick Fethrston Devon Shipley, Elise Brubaker, Joel Brown, Julia Gilbert, Kate Shaefer, Kelly Smith Slawson, Marlee Wenski, Nick Smith, Shannon Lampkin, and Whitney Dodson. You prove that the ensemble is just as important to the overall success of a show as anyone else.

The production team of director Adam Grun, Music al Director Meredith Todd, Choreographer Joe Elvis, Set Designer Brian Ebbinghaus and Costume Designer Riley Clute bring the entire production together with a unified vision. It’s a shame that there is so much competition for theatre space that their show only has one more small window in which to see it. Technical flaws were few, but with a little more time to fine tune the mix so that the band doesn’t drown out the vocalists, to better illuminate the actors with spotlights or more front lighting (I know it’s a dark and brooding piece, but we still want to see who’s who) and to refine the scene changes so that props aren’t still being shuffled in and out when the next scene begins, the show would be nearly perfect. None of those opening night quibbles had a major impact to the show itself or anyone’s enjoyment of it. Indeed, the thing I worried about the most is the same thing I always worry about at every production in the James J. Eagan Civic Center:  I keep waiting for someone to fall through the hole in the stage floor where the orchestra conductor can peer out to make sure the orchestra in on queue. I don’t know if it ever happens there, but the low light levels had me a little concerned.

Make plans this weekend to see Next Generation Theatre Company’s’ Jekyll & Hyde by visiting for tickets. A word of caution to those considering bringing their small children, this production is a “PG-13” rating for intense scenes and violence.

5.0 / 5.0