2012-04-26 / Dining & Entertainment

Jekyll and Hyde

CLU performance brings chills
By Cary Ginell

If you were in Robert Louis Stevenson’s London in 1888 and a well-dressed figure in a top hat and silver-tipped cane bid you “Good evening,” you’d be best served by running in the other direction, because that “gentleman” might have been the malevolent Edward Hyde, the anti-hero of Stevenson’s novella “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.”

California Lutheran University’s current production of the 1997 musical version, “Jekyll & Hyde,” brings chills and welldeserved applause in a remarkably evocative production.

The story is basically “Frankenstein” turned inward, as a mild-mannered but distraught physician, Dr. Henry Jekyll, seeks to rid mankind of its evil alter ego after witnessing his father succumb to mental illness.

With no one to experiment on, Jekyll volunteers himself, and after drinking a blood-red potion he unleashes his own dark side, the monster Hyde, who proceeds to wreak vengeance, one by one, on the hypocritical board of governors that refused Jekyll’s proposal for assistance in his work. (I like to call this sequence “Hyde-and- Go-Seek.”)

The creature Jekyll creates is as ruthlessly persistent in his demonic doings as Jekyll is in trying to find a cure for his father’s condition.

Jekyll spouts idealistic homilies like “Things aren’t wrong just because they are new” and “The only thing to fear is the unknown,” but in the end the joke is on him. He sings, “The only thing that is constant is change,” which is what happens to him— he begins transforming into Hyde without a fix.

The role of Jekyll usually falls to an actor versatile enough to change his personality, rather than having two actors play the part. Many actors sport a ponytail, which unravels when they become Hyde, enhancing his wildness.

In CLU’s production, Brent Ramirez needs no such gimmicks. He removes his spectacles, dons a top hat, lowers his voice half an octave, and voila! Instant madman.

The two key scenes in Ramirez’s performance are the initial frightening transformation (“Alive!”), and the penultimate scene (“The Confrontation”), in which his two personalities grapple with each other for domination.

The latter scene is especially effective, as director Michael Arndt uses a top-hatted, cloaked silhouette of Hyde (played by a double) on a proscenium above the stage, which is illuminated when Hyde sings his lines.

Martha Sadie Griffin is luminous as Jekyll’s fiancee, Emma; she sings the signature ballad, “Once Upon a Dream,” easily the musical highlight of the show.

Griffin displays passion and empathy as Emma in her tragic relationship with Jekyll. (I chuckled at this exchange between the lovers: Jekyll: “My angel!” Emma: “My devil!”)

Emma’s character isn’t as juicy as that of the hard-luck harlot Lucy, stunningly played by Kristi McClave, who not only sings the prurient “Bring on the Men” but also has two bedroom scenes with Hyde, one of which doesn’t turn out so well.

Jordan Skinner is laudable as Jekyll’s best pal John Utterson, while Jeff Shaner is properly avuncular as Emma’s father,

Sir Danvers.

The other actors play their more subservient parts well, but Erik Klein as a snarling, sadistic pimp named Spider stands out in two especially impressive scenes. He’s actually more frightening than Hyde.

Nathaniel Sinnott created the spooky stage design, a vertical set featuring a stairway (that Lucy slinks down) and a skeletal catwalk serving as a bridge over a silhouette of London.

Evocative lighting stresses scarlet hues, while a tidy laboratory flat, complete with flasks of potions, descends during Jekyll’s lab scenes.

Daniel Geeting leads the sumptuous offstage orchestra.

The final performances are this weekend at the Scherr Forum in the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza. Show times are 7:30 p.m. Fri. and Sat., April 27 and 28, and 2:30 p.m. Sun., April 29. Tickets are $21.

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