Jekyll & Hyde ★★★

Book & Lyrics by Leslie Bricusse, Music by Frank Wildhorn. Hayes Theatre Sydney. 29 July – 27 August 2022.

The Hayes Theatre’s revisionist version of Leslie Bricusse and Frank Wildhorn’s 1990 musical Jekyll & Hyde is a whole lot to take in. Bold, inventive and wildly uneven. There’s a lot to love and a lot to roll your eyes at, but boring it ain’t. In the end it’s undone by its own lack of chemistry which is, you know, ironic.

Director Hayden Tee has imposed a new vision over a frankly overblown, mediocre musical. The original show itself takes liberties with the source material to try and squeeze it into the mould of “a 90s musical” – inserting romantic subplots that distract from, rather than enhance, the themes of Robert Louis Stevenson’ gothic novel. This isn’t The Phantom of the Opera, no matter how hard they try to force it to be. So it’s ripe for reinvention. 

Tee transplants the action to St Jude’s Military Asylum with the inmates taking on the roles of the story, all presumably happening in the mind of John Utterson (a gender swapped role played excellently by Madeleine Jones). As in the novel, Utterson is worried about her best friend, Dr Jekyll (played by indie pop/cabaret star Brendan Maclean), a scientist desperately searching for a way to separate the evil desires from the human psyche. She tries to hold him together as he faces his impending wedding to his fiance Emma (Georgina Hopson, recently seen in Phantom of the Opera) and the withdrawal of his research funding. In a desperate act, he experiments on himself – giving birth to his ID unleashed, Mr Hyde.

Maclean’s Jekyll and Hyde are frustrating beasts. With little delineation between the two it’s hard to grasp the duality of the story. Jekyll is obsessed, stressed and a mess, Hyde is the same with a lack of impulse control. The costuming decision to dress Hyde in a surgeon’s cap and gown seems backwards – surely Jekyll should be the one in a doctor’s garb? Maclean gives the performance 110% and has the vocals to bring it home, but the characterisation is a bit of a misstep. Jekyll is hard to care about so it’s hard to give a damn about his story and the romance plot feels completely forced.

The show is stolen by transgendered performer, Brady Peeti who takes on the role of “hooker with a heart of gold”, Lucy. This is Hayden Tee’s best decision, Peeti’s physicality and voice reinvent Lucy from cardboard romantic foil to the most sympathetic and powerful character in the show. A triumph of casting and vision.

Now the reality is if you’re coming to see Jekyll & Hyde you’re coming for the music, and the show is stuffed full with some excellent torch songs and in the hands of this cast they sound immaculate. Every member of the cast knows how to wring a tune for every ounce of emotion. This whole production sounds amazing. Annoyingly the acting is a real mixed bag. Some cast balance the camp (and the show is outrageously camp) with some kind of grounding, others are simply mugging to the back row, and in the small Hayes Theatre the back row isn’t that far away at all. Madeleine Jones stands out for really getting that balance right.

This production Jekyll & Hyde is a big, frenetic musical theatre experiment which is at least fitting for the core material but much like Dr Jekyll’s alchemy it has tipped over to the dark side the results can be monstrous. Come for the big tunes sung by big voices, and let the rest wash over you. It’s a hot mess, but I’d rather watch a show that shoots for the stars and burns up in orbit, than a boring one that plays it far too safe.







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