Needham Community Theatre's current show is the blockbuster musical, "Jekyll & Hyde". The show is adapted from Robert Louis Stevenson's 1886 novella "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde". The original stage conception was by Steve Cuden and Frank Wildhorn with music by Wildhorn and lyrics and book by Leslie Bricusse. The musical ran on Broadway for 1,543 performances from April 28, 1997 through January 7, 2001. It tells the story of Dr. Henry Jekyll, a brilliant young doctor who is distraught over his father's mental illness. He tries to find a cure by using himself as the test subject but the experiment backfires and gives life to his evil alter ego, Edward Hyde, a vile murderer who brings a killing spree to the city of London in the late 19th century. This show isn't done very often but it has topnotch direction, acting and singing, making it a must see show of the season.
Director Nancy Curran Willis casts this 33 member cast wonderfully. She moves this huge cast around the stage with ease. The first entrance of Mr Hyde is remarkable and scares the audience. Nancy gets the pathos this epic tale needs to show man's inner struggle between good and evil and leaves the audience on the edge of their seats during the chilling murder scenes. Musical director Brett Hinkle conducts his 11 piece orchestra beautifully, plays the keyboards and does a superb job teaching the ensemble, solo, duet and quartet numbers. The chorus numbers include the three "Facade" songs and the spine tingling, "Murder, Murder" which are harmonic gems. The choreography by Laura Espy really shines in the dance hall scene "Bring on the Men" where the girls try to entice the patrons with their charms and the ensemble in "Murder, Murder". Another impressive part of this show is the multitude of gorgeous 1880's Victorian costumes by Heather Daly, Sharon Kivnik, Kathy Magni, Rusty Palumbo and Liz Keet. It gives the show the authentic look it needs with the high society and street people garb. The fantastic set is by Sarah Roth and the expert lighting is by Eric Jacobsen. Hard working stage managers Heather Daly and Merissa Devine move the set pieces on and off with ease with their crew.
The cast is lead by multitalented Ben DiScipio who portrays Jekyll and Hyde. His voice ranges from a guttural bass as the evil Hyde to a high baritone as Jekyll. His acting in this dual role is fantastic and his voice soars in "This Is The Moment" when he finally decides to use these experimental drugs on himself. uses facial expressions and writhing on the floor during "The Transformation" song with cast members from the asylum holding mirrors in front of him which is reminiscent of "Knight of the Mirrors" from "Man of La Mancha". Ben becomes more scary as Hyde in "Alive" when he enters to attack Lucy for the first time. His best acted song is "The Confrontation" where he changes back and forth as both characters with only vocal and lighting changes to clue the audience in on which one he is. (Red light with messy hair as Hyde and white light as Jekyll) Ben's portrayal blends the tragic qualities of a Dickens character as Jekyll and a Bill Sykes persona as Hyde. His excellent rendition of this complex role will mesmerize you and keep you captivated all night long.
Yolanda Scott is stunning as Lucy. She is a terrific actress who plays the tragic prostitute, Lucy who is similar to Nancy in "Oliver". Lucy loves the wrong man and pays for it in the end. Yolanda is a fantastic belter who leads the girls in "Bring on the Men" but she also sings some lovely ballads including "Sympathy", "Someone Like You" where she soars off the charts with her powerful delivery and stops the show as well as in "A New Life" an emotional, yearning to escape her past. Yolanda gives Lucy the sympathetic portrayal so the audience can empathize with her plight. I last reviewed Yolanda as Anna in "The King & I" in 2007.The other woman in Jekyll's life is his fiancee, Emma, played by Shonna McEachern. She uses her splendid lyrical soprano voice in her duets, "Letting Go" a pretty ballad with her father, "Take Me as I Am" with Jekyll and "In His Eyes'', a gorgeous song with Lucy. My favorite number is Shonna's poignant solo, "Once Upon a Dream" where she tries to remind Henry Jekyll what they mean to each other. Her impressive delivery will bring tears to your eyes. The character of Emma is a wonderful counterpoint to the dark underworld people in Hyde's life and she carries it off with the finesse it needs with her impressive acting skills.
Some of the other talented performers handle their roles with ease in both their singing and their acting. Curt Fennell plays the sympathetic lawyer,Utterson who tries to convince Jekyll his dangerous experiments will end tragically while Ed Siegal plays Emma's kindly father who tries to warn her that Jekyll might not be the right man for her. They voices soar in their numbers especially the quartet song with Ben and Shonna called His Work and Nothing More".The obnoxious board members who become Hyde's victims because of how they treat him as Jekyll, are Tony Rocha as the cowardly, Lord Savage, Dan Goldstone as the disgustingly lascivious, Bishop of Basingstoke who procures young prostitutes to satisfy him, Craig Howard as the pompous windbag, General Glossup, Lisa Huntington as the rich bitchy, Lady Beaconsfield, Jeremy White as the snobbish Sir Archibald Proops and Timothy Lawton as the nasty Simon Stride, Emma's other suitor who wants to steal her away from Jekyll. Three other performers with strong singing voices are Ben Sharton as Spider, the whoremaster,Cathy Merlo as Nellie, the madam and Brian Vaughn-Martel as the Newsboy who leads the "Facade" number with his strong tenor voice as well as the "Murder, Murder" group song. Kudos to everyone else who worked on this show. So for an excellent theatrical production, be sure to catch "Jekyll & Hyde" so you can enjoy all the thrills and chills of this Victorian tale.