Festival of New Musicals begins

WINTER PARK — While we all know that Dr. Henry Jekyll had a devil of a time dealing with his alter-ego Mr. Hyde, did you know that he had two sons enjoying their own adventures in London?

I didn’t either.

The musical Young Dr. Jekyll aims to educate us about that. This play by Philip David Stern, Lisa Hopkins and Tim Wells gives us a scenario where Dr. Jekyll isn’t dead, but has been committed to an asylum. That leaves his young sons Harry and Arthur on their own. Harry, as it turns out, as some of dad’s interest is experimenting with those pesky chemicals, and he thinks he may be on the verge of a significant discovery. Of course, plenty goes wrong long before that.

Young Dr. Jekyll is one of the six new plays being performed this weekend at the 6th annual Florida Festival Of New Musicals, which opened on Thursday at the Winter Park Playhouse.

Happily for lovers of musicals, the Playhouse continues to sponsor this opportunity for Central Florida audiences to check out new plays in development. On Thursday, audiences got to see the first act of Young Dr. Jekyll, a musical with a cozy cast of five actors/singers.

What is Young Dr. Jekyll?

The play, which features songs and lyrics by Stern, a resident of Burlington, Vermont, was directed for the Winter Park Playhouse by Brandon Roberts, the popular actor, playwright and director at the Orlando Shakes. The story follows the two Jekyll brothers, who have markedly different interests. While Harry is into his experiments, and fighting off a bad head cold and fever, Arthur has made friends with Charles — a young woman who wants to get into the local university, but this being the 1880s, only men are allowed to become students.

So Charlie dons a disguise and pretends to be a man, then accepts Arthur’s offer to stay with him and his brother and become their roommate. While she develops a liking for the handsome Harry, Charles also proves her — err, his — worth by making exceptionally tasty tarts, which Harry loves, so does does their landlord when he arrives looking for the rent money.

Their story is further complicated by their meeting with Brigitte, a young French woman whose boyfriend died tragically, and now she’s on the run. Was it murder? Act II, it seems, will help reveal all.

To the uninitiated, the Florida Festival of New Musicals is an opportunity for playwrights and composers working on brand new shows to present their work to a local audience and get feedback. Normally just one act is performed, with a cast and musical accompaniment by the Winter Park Playhouse staff. It provides a flavor of what’s to come.

Young Dr. Jekyll has some fine songs and some amusing moments, but one oddity is that there’s no Mr. Hyde in sight. Is he getting ready to appear in Act II? Time will tell. For the moment, the play is vividly imagined courtesy of the excellent talent on stage, including Weston Kemp as the obsessed Harry, Dustin Cunningham as the far more comical Arthur, Patrick Kramer as the stuffy landlord Mr. Folsom, and Rebecca Fisher as the sly Brigitte. Laurel Hatfield has a field day — and is a riot to watch — as Charles.

What is the Festival Of New Musicals?

The annual Florida Festival of New Musicals was created to advance and elevate the original American art form of musical theater by fostering the development of new musicals. The Playhouse, which frequently brings in brand new musicals making their Central Florida debut, also aims to boost the artistic growth of writers and composers.

This four-day event will showcase six new musicals that are currently in the development stage and haven’t been produced on stage yet. The Festival also enables the writers and composers to get exposure to not only the public, but the news media and to regional theater producers and directors.

Tickets for these live performances are $10 each, while a “Festival Fun Pass” is available for $50 and gets you in to see all 6 shows. Tickets can be purchased by calling the box office at 407-645-0145.

The other shows being performed this weekend are The Useful Citizen, Bats On The Moon, A Beautiful Place, Gabriel Blow Your Horn, and The Couple Company The Musical. The next performance of Young Dr. Jekyll is tonight at 7 p.m.

Michael Freeman is an Orlando journalist, playwright, and author of the book A Christmas Eve Story. Contact him at Freelineorlando@gmail.com.

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