note: entire contents copyright 2002 by Beverly Creasey
If you see one musical this year, make it the Turtle Lane Playhouse's "Jekyll & Hyde". They've done the impossible and proved the old adage about a silk purse wrong.
Let me be up front about J&H: I've never been impressed with the Leslie Bricusse/Frank Wildhorn musical. Although scores of audiences flocked downtown for the Broadway tour, it left me cold and I denounced it as schlock. Well, I've changed my mind --- or rather, Turtle Lane has changed my mind.
Director Jerry Bisantz's fiercely intelligent take on the musical and Ronald L. Dion's Broadway calibre sets (magically lit by Jeff Gardiner) transform J&H into a compelling, sardonic morality play which resonates like crazy: You can't witness Dr. Jekyll's earnest plea to the medical establishment for permission to do research without thinking of the stem cell debate raging right now across this nation.
Have I mentioned the extraordinary cast? and Richard Itczak's spectacular costumes? Linda Sughrue's taut, erotic choreography is executed with crisp precision and Bisantz paces the show perfectly so that it slowly builds to a suspenseful conclusion. (There are actually two, but no matter because TLP pulls it all off.) The vocal pyrotechnics are daunting, so Bisantz has double cast the principals, and the cast I saw handled the material effortlessly --- as does Wayne Ward's cracker-jack orchestra.
This week Ben DiScipio is Jekyll/Hyde and DiScipio's secret is that he plays it absolutely straight --- no camp, even though it's high melodrama. DiScipio captures the nobility of a scientist who's searching for a cure --- and suddenly the passionate urgency (even in his singing, he's so good) becomes madness. It's a tour de force, and he pulls off the wacky "I'm crazy/No, I'm not" ending with class and style. (The B'way version didn't!)
If the perilous experiment --- complete with Gardiner's glowing chemicals --- isn't enough to pique your interest, how about a luminous performance by Lea Darrow as the whore with a dream. Her rainy demise will take your breath away. I could go on --- about Chuck Walsh's moving performance as Shaina Murphy's father; Susan Walsh's hilarious drunk scene; about James Tallich's loyal friend; about Marshall Munni's evil bishop; about Corey Jackson's chilling pimp .... Every performance stands out in relief. If theater is transforming, this is the show (surprise, surprise) which proves it. This is TLP's "Moment."