In ‘Jekyll & Hyde,’ dark themes reign

Two distinct motifs have emerged in musicals on Broadway over the past half century. One genre is the lighter American musical-comedy, mostly attributed to the 1950s and ’60s, which re-emerged in the late 1990s, and the other is rooted in European opera, such as the massive 1980s hits like “Phantom of the Opera,” and “Les Miserables.” With the recent popularity of heavier dramas and the epical hit “Hamilton,” perhaps the current American trend is shifting toward meatier theater.

Humorously, David C. Johnston, director of the current Maui production of “Jekyll & Hyde The Musical” commented in the program, “It’s August. It’s MAPA Live. It’s me. And it’s another ‘dark’ show.”

So okay, MAPA Live! shows can be dark, and yes, they feature colossal talents, but the reason to never miss an August, MAPA Live!, “dark” show, is to witness the sheer spectacle of it all. The staging of “Jekyll & Hyde,” by Johnston and Andre Morissette, is almost like choreography, particularly in the maneuvering of the massive London skyline set, and the exquisitely detailed interiors co-designed by Dan Hays and Jamie Tait. In addition, Mark Astrella and Matthew Moreau’s lavish lighting design, as well as Vanessa Cerrito’s plush costumes, only enhance the quality of this ambitious production.

The book, by Leslie Bricusse, is a bit of a slow starter, but “Board of Governors” is a marvelous scene with strong supporting performances by Paul Janes-Brown, Logan Heller, Marsi Smith and Joey Schumacher. In the scene, Henry Jekyll (Will Kimball) argues to maintain the funding for his research, which is denied, foreshadowing a dubious end for his detractors. Later that evening at the “Engagement Party,” the fly crew of Alex Groveman, Bob Offerman and Daniel Vicars seamlessly transforms the stage into a Victorian mansion. Emma Carew (Leighanna Locke) is introduced as Jekyll’s fiancee much to the

disdain of her father, Sir Danver Carew (Schumacher), and Simon Stride (Heller). I was particularly impressed with Heller’s movement and characterization. Though a smaller role, Heller is well equipped to excel in Maui theater and I expect to see him in larger roles in the near future. “Take Me as I Am” is a charming duet showcasing the rare vocal talents of both Locke and Kimball; however Kimball was just getting warmed up.

At the seedy Red Rat pub, Jekyll’s comrade, John Utterson (John Galvan), treats him to a bachelor party libation. “Bring On the Men,” performed triumphantly by Kathryn Holtkamp as Lucy, is the much-needed showstopper you’ll be waiting for. The scene is reminiscent of both “Master of the House” and “Lovely Ladies” from “Les Miserables” and features a standout cameo performance by Karli Rose as Nelli. Though this cast is incredibly deep, Holtkamp steals the rest of Act 1. Galvan, another Maui newcomer, also offers a noteworthy performance as the dutiful, caring voice of reason who cautions Jekyll of the dangers his work may inevitably lead to.

“This is the Moment” is the most recognizable song from “Jekyll & Hyde” and Kimball, as he embarks into the unknown of his journey, delivers the signature song with the power that his operatic training suggests. Not to be overlooked in this moment is Jekyll’s laboratory, which is the designer’s finest achievement, and the cast and crews finest transition. After “The Transformation,” Hyde stalks Lucy and the love triangle that frames Bricusse’s book develops. In “Sympathy, Tenderness,” Lucy seeks medical aid from Dr. Jekyll after being sexually assaulted by Mr. Hyde. The caring nature of Jekyll is something she has never known, which evolves into Holtkamp’s astounding Act 1 exclamation point, “Someone Like You.”

“Murder, Murder,” which opens Act 2, is the finest ensemble number in the entire production, in addition to the number that best exploits the impressive production values, be it props, costumes or exceptional lighting.

When Locke, as Emma, is neglected by Jekyll amidst a week of experiments and an oddly coincidental murder spree in their tight-knit, elite society, she laments with “Once Upon a Dream,” a superb showcase of her vocal skills that perhaps the Maui theater community takes for granted.

When paired just a few scenes later opposite Holtkamp on “In His Eyes,” these two extraordinary voices aroused thunderous applause. The piece is so strong that it is not only worth the price of admission, but also to be considered as the best show-stopping moment of 2016.

Strong vocals are essential in a show like “Jekyll & Hyde,” but so is an outstanding orchestra. Musical director Gary W. Leavitt conducts veteran Maui musicians of the highest standard with Kim Vetterli, Reid Ishikawa, Richard Vetterli, Perry Gragas, Lauralei Singsank, Jazzlynn Woods, Beth Sederstrom, Cody Sarmiento, Stephen Rodrigues, Sue Nakama, Sue Westcott, Ana Kalina, Darius Soo Hoo, Patrice Weed Sheerer, Theresa Skinner, Cheryl Lindley and WenLu Duffy.

At intermission, I was quite impressed with Kimball’s vocal skill, but remained unsure of his dramatic work. Those questions were vanquished entirely with his work in Act 2. His deeply emotive pain conveyed at the death of a loved one is the type of stage work rarely displayed on Maui. I can only imagine the painful place he must have ventured to in delivering the haunting sobs and bellows. Kimball is equally impressive with the displays of unbridled rage toward loved ones (and even himself) in his battles late in the show to destroy Hyde and his horrifying deeds.

The mature language and themes, wisely warned by the producers of “Jekyll & Hyde,” might not be the best fit for everyone, but it is no more unsettling than the sex and violence presented in television crime dramas and news exposes. The production is on the longer side, but it should be stated that is the standard in the operatic genre. MAPA Live! shows cost a great deal of money, and it’s all up there on the Castle Theater stage every August with production values and gigantic casts and crews that rival an Equity tour. That said, audience members will always get their money’s worth when they buy a ticket to these opulent spectacles.

UPCOMING

ProArts Inc. presents “12 Angry Jurors” by Reginald Rose, directed by Angela Thompson.

A jury deliberates on the first-degree murder trial of a 16-year-old boy accused in the stabbing death of his father. Tempers flare and prejudices and personal biases come to light as the jurors change their votes back and forth.

The production stars Joel Agnew, Kathy Collins, Ute Finch, Lee Garrow, Roland K. Harper, Kevin Hazelton, Carol Lem, Jim Oxborrow, David Rooks, Joyce Romero, Neil Sullivan, Heidi Turner and Jonathan Yudis.

* Performances will be at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays beginning Friday and continuing through Aug. 21 at the ProArts Playhouse in Kihei. Tickets are $25 with, $22 kamaaina nights on Thursdays, and are available by calling 463-6550.

OPPORTUNITIES

The Maui Academy of Performing Arts is currently seeking 100-plus ballerinas (male and female of all levels) for its holiday production of “Nutcracker Sweets.”

* Performances will take place Dec. 10 and 11 in Castle Theater at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center. For more information, including the audition schedule, visit www.mauiacademy.org.

* Maui Scene / play. Beth Fobbe-Wills is a member of the orchestra performing in MAPA Live!’s production of “Jekyll & Hyde The Musical” at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center. Due to an editing error, her name was omitted from Thursday’s “Backstage” column on Page 6 in Maui Scene.

The Maui News apologizes for the error.