Hamer Hall, Arts Centre Melbourne
Well worth the 25 year wait, this was the Moment, not just for Anthony Warlow to actually play Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde on stage, but also for Australia to finally see a professional production of Jekyll and Hyde.
Billed as the 25th Anniversary Concert, Jekyll and Hyde receives a lavish concert staging, not just with an excellent cast, confident direction and full costumes but also with the absolute luxury of accompaniment from Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. For the first of two Melbourne concerts, Hamer Hall was filled to capacity with musical theatre aficionados, a great many of whom would have owned the deluxe 2CD 1994 concept recording of Jekyll and Hyde that put Warlow in the international spotlight.
The original Broadway production of Jekyll and Hyde ran almost four years and was even filmed for DVD release with none other than David Hasselhoff. International productions were prolific, but local efforts never saw fruition. The Frank Wildhorn musical rides on the success of its power ballads and duets, each one building to a Great. Big. Finish. The book and lyrics of Leslie Bricusse swirl with romantic imagery and yet are often let down by lame, overly simplistic rhymes, particularly in ensemble numbers.
Tweaked and judiciously edited, the concert running time of 130-minutes (including interval) is the ideal length to enjoy the hit songs in context without getting bogged down in extraneous details. Laugh lines are practically non-existent, although Warlow brings some welcome comic relief with his delicious delivery of pitch-black humour. In line with the original, Jekyll’s innocent love interest Emma returns to the name of Lisa Carew. The business with Jekyll’s poor father is not included, and Red Rat boss/pimp Spider is not on the scene. Infectious romp ‘Bring on the Men’, replaced for the original Broadway production, is thankfully included here.
Director Chris Parker makes grand use of space, circling the orchestra with stairs and high platform to complement the downstage scenes. Parker’s direction sees the show acted to the equivalent extent of a fully staged production, with the streamlined staging allowing the storytelling to be made even clearer. Unlike the hideously overblown 2013 Broadway revival, Parker simply trusts the material and allows the cast to give natural performances, successfully playing down the potentially camp or over the top aspects of the show.
Costume designer Victoria Horne uses luscious tactile fabrics to give the mostly all black costumes a strong sense of luxury. Lisa Carew stands out in sleek steel grey, and her climactic wedding dress brings a touch of sparkle. Mr Hyde’s thickly hooded black cape and blue John Lennon glasses give the insidious villain a sense of swagger and style. Trent Whitmore supports Horne’s work with beautifully coiffured wigs, a highlight being the vibrant red curls on Lucy.
Maestro Vanessa Scammell again illustrates her flair for musical theatre, her meticulous work allowing the score to be heard at its very best. Orchestral music is rich and lush, and vocal harmonies are expertly realised.
The supporting ensemble cast is filled with top class performers who are leading players in their own right, including Martin Crewes, Alex Rathgeber, Stephen Mahy, Troy Sussman and Annie Aitken. As a special treat, a couple of opera legends make all too rare appearances: Suzanne Johnston (Eliza Doolittle to Warlow’s to Professor Higgins in the 1993 revival of Victorian State Opera’s My Fair Lady) brings a spicy undercurrent to Lady Beaconsfield, and renowned baritone Peter Coleman-Wright, still in excellent voice, gives Sir Danvers Carew the requisite air of austerity.
Guest American artist Amanda Lea LaVergne conveys Lisa Carew’s wholesome purity with a breathy, youthful vocal style. Looking every bit the glamorous society heiress, LaVergne delivers a solid performance, singing with a sweet, pleasant tone.
Already well established as a choice leading lady, local artist Jemma Rix takes her status to the next level with a stunning performance as vulnerable lady of the night, Lucy. Where other singers have a tendency to belt Lucy’s songs with reckless abandon, Rix delivers the hits with finely calibrated precision, finding much more power in tenderness and subtlety. After the saucy joys of “Bring on the Men,” Rix breaks hearts with “No One Knows Who I Am” before owning the theatre with the soaring passion of “Someone Like Me” and the piercing heartbreak of “A New Life.”
Finally claiming his signature recording role on stage, Warlow is magnificent as Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, his electrifying performance readily living up to the massive expectations surrounding this concert event. While his voice is closer to baritone than the high tenor of 25 years ago, Warlow retains all the thrilling edge that makes the music soar.
Beginning with this quietly understated entrance, Warlow sets the standard for the acting style of the cast, using natural, almost underplayed speech and completely avoiding the indulgence mad histrionics. Legendary power ballad “This Is the Moment” receives extended rapturous applause, serving as acclaim not just for the performance on the night but for the marvellous career that has led to the Moment.
Much as he is the star attraction, Warlow presents as a solid team player, working closely with the ensemble cast to deliver a well-integrated production. Warlow enjoys strong chemistry with LaVergne and Rix, with his duets with Rix being particularly thrilling. Jekyll and Hyde builds to “Confrontation,” a climactic faceoff between the twin spirits of good and evil; this showpiece is the crowning glory in Warlow’s unforgettable performance.
With the unfortunate demise of The Production Company imminent, the high quality of a concert musical staging such as this one for Jekyll and Hyde gives a welcome ray of hope for the future. With a second Melbourne performance tonight and a Sydney outing next weekend, musical theatre fans must not miss this exceptional concert.
Jekyll and Hyde 25th Anniversary Concert plays at Hamer Hall, Arts Centre Melbourne again Saturday 26 October 2019, and plays Darling Harbour Theatre, Sydney 2 November 2019.