ORLANDO — Legend has it that after Robert Louis Stevenson wrote his first draft of what would become his classic novella “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde,” based on a nightmare he’d had, his wife thought it was so shocking that she urged him to burn the manuscript.
Fortunately, Stevenson was inspired to write a second draft, which would become the short story published in 1886. The concept of the dual personalities within all of us — one harboring our civil and gentle nature, the other our attraction to evil — has never stopped drawing in audiences and inspiring future artists. The novella has inspired adaptations in the fields of movies, television, radio, comic books, rock songs, and even sequels in other novels. The kindly Dr. Jekyll and the wicked Mr. Hyde have an enduring ability to keep us fascinated and entertained.
If there have been far too many movie adaptations to count, there have actually been a fairly lengthy number of stage adaptations as well — starting in 1887 with a theatrical version that opened in Boston by writer Thomas Russell Sullivan, which went on to tour Britain for 20 years.
But probably the best known stage version debuted in 1990 as “Jekyll & Hyde The Musical,” with music by Frank Wildhorn, and book and lyrics by Leslie Bricusse. It’s this version of the Stevenson classic that’s making a triumphant return to Orlando, with the debut performance on Friday night.
The production marks the happy return to the stage of Greater Orlando Actors’ Theatre, which doesn’t spare much in giving us a cast of 24 highly gifted actors, singers and dancers, who succeed brilliantly in bringing this rousing show to life. It’s a high-energy production with some sizzling choreography by Eric Yow. When Dr. Jekyll and his lawyer Utterson check out a local den of iniquity called The Red Rat and the ladies of the night kick up a storm, the scene is mesmerizing.
The musical expands on Stevenson’s original story, giving us a Dr. Jekyll who would seem to have it all — successful medical career, a beautiful fiancée, and a respectable position in upper society — but he’s obsessed with the notion of exploring the possibility of separating the good and the evil within man.
But when Jekyll presents his idea — using a formula he’s created on a human subject — to the Board of Governor’s of St. Jude’s Hospital, they soundly reject it. Frustrated, Jekyll decides the only recourse is to test the formula on himself. We all know how that one works out.
The show’s director, Paul Castaneda, and lead actor Adam McCabe, made the interesting choice to do little in the way of makeup or masks to mark the physical difference between Jekyll and Hyde, and instead rely on McCabe’s ability to capture the essence of two very different people. And while the show offers some beautiful love ballads, it doesn’t really skimp on the horror aspects of the show, either. Hyde’s first appearance is suitably chilling, and equally unsettling are the scenes where he gleefully seeks revenge against any member of the Board of Directors who poo-pooed Jekyll’s concepts.
That’s part of what makes this show so entertaining. If you like romance — check. You like terror — check. You like the gothic style of the story — check.
Castaneda keeps the pace of the show slightly below that of the Road Runner, except for some of the musical’s more tender moments, particularly those showing Jekyll’s friendship with Lucy, a local prostitute who ends up getting regularly beaten by Hyde. The large cast works beautifully together, and Hannah Celeste really stands out as the often devastated Lucy.
In a very challenging lead role, McCabe succeeds nicely is creating two separate and distinct characters without altering his physical appearance. His mannerisms, the gleam in his eye, and his body language all instantly signal which character has just walked on stage, before he even says a line.
“Jekyll & Hyde The Musical” is a fine and very entertaining way to kick off the Halloween season. The show is being produced at the Central Christian Church at 250 SW Ivanhoe Boulevard, which has a surprisingly large stage that’s ideal for this ambitious production.
The show runs through Sept. 25, which performances at 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and 3 p.m. on Sundays. Tickets are $25 for general admission and $20 for students and seniors. For reservations, log on to Goatgroup.tix.com.
Michael Freeman is an Orlando journalist, playwright and author of the book “Bloody Rabbit”. Contact him at Freelineorlando@gmail.com..