The creative dream team that is Shaun Kingma and Tyson Legg are a force that is matched by no other. Their ability to transform and morph a production into something that is truely original and non-derivative is incredibly refreshing and what the Melbourne theatre scene desperately needs more of. Jekyll and Hyde is quite possible their finest work to date. The concept, the staging, the music, the cast, the costumes, the wigs, the set, the projection, the lighting - all married together in perfect harmony to form one of the greatest productions to hit Melbourne this year.
Let's first address the elephant in the room - the show itself. Jekyll and Hyde isn't a show that has aged very well. The score is VERY 90s and Wildhorn's obsession with throwing as many big notes at his (then) wife Linda Eder as he could, drips with over-indulgence. But if you hate the show 'that much', then perhaps you should stay at home and watch re-runs of The Bachelor.
Shaun Kingma's ability to present 'dark 'with presence and power dominates this show. The set - designed by Brenton Staples is a masterpiece. A jigsaw of wrought iron that transforms itself in more ways than an infinity dress, it's the kind of set that really needs to be seen to truely appreciate it's complexity. Brad Alcock's lighting design casts all kinds of striking shadow patterns on the stage and his ability to keep the cast lit at all times (despite the constant surrounding darkness) is very impressive.
At the musical helm, Tyson Legg has morphed the orchestration into a much more fluid accompaniment to the show as a whole. Gone are the tacky 90s intros and synthesisers and in their place is a magnificent balance of subtlety and power. His arrangements of Bring on the Men, Dangerous Game and the stripping back of the beginnings of all of Lucy's 90s power ballad moments gives the music a raw, powerful drama that the (very dated) original score does no longer have. The orchestra is a tight unit of fine musicians who really flourish in the large numbers and handle the more intricate and vocally-led moments beautifully.
In his director's notes, Kingma mentions the intentional constant juxtapositions of Good Vs Evil, Light Vs Dark, Colour Vs Black and White, Period Vs Modern and Natural Vs Stylised. Never have I seen such strong symbolism carry across so strongly in ALL aspects of a production. This is indicative of an incredibly strong creative team and all should be commended for their very clear team work to create one solid, cohesive vision.
Costumes by Victoria Horne are award worthy. To be given a pallet of black and grey to work with, and then still produce a set of costumes in which each piece is rich in texture, striking in shape and clear in it's character intention is no easy feat. But Horne pulls it off with absolute flair and flourish - credit to her and her entire team for a remarkable collection.
Choreography by Tamara Finch is executed in a way that does not deter from the dark and gritty nature of Kingma's vision. Ensemble numbers a laced with stamping and sharp movement, whilst more intimate numbers feature dancing cast members behind the bars of the iron set that compliment each moment perfectly.
In the title role, Mark Doran gives a performance that is second to none. A voice with incredible technique and power, a performance the commands your attention and a true commitment to character, Doran is a true gift to the Melbourne theatre scene. His renditions of 'Alive' and 'The Confrontation' are utter perfection. As Lucy Harris - Rachel Rai manages to transform the role from an excuse for Wildhorn to showcase his wife's voice into a character that has heart, gentleness, subtlety and a sex appeal that completely draws the audience in (as opposed to just throwing it in their faces). Rai's never-ending belt range gets a full run in this production but what is most impressive is her very real and natural entrances into each song. There's no clunky gear changes into the songs vocally or musically (credit again, to Legg). They just...flow. A stunning performance.
In a cast of entirely strong performers, other standouts include Jon Sebastian who delivers a powerhouse vocal line as the minister in Act Two that places him on the same vocal pedestal as Doran, Daniel Mottau as Jekyll's friend and confidante - John Utterson, and the entire board of Governors: Ric Birkett , Ian Andrew, Warwick Reid, Yann Tixhon, Nelfio Di Marco, Joel Armour, Emily Crawford for their intense, and absurdly dark performances.
A true highlight of 2018 and indeed, Melbourne Amateur Theatre history. Congratulations to CLOC for entrusting a team to bring to life a completely original vision of an old-hat musical. May this production inspire more such-thinking in other creative teams in future.
Photo credit: Ben Fon