Thursday, August 8, 2013

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Last spring, I saw Turun kaupunginteatteri's production of Jekyll & Hyde twice. After the first time, I felt I need a second viewing before I can write a review. The feeling persisted after the second time. However, seeing how I've had the whole summer to ponder about this, I guess it's no use procrastinating about this longer.

Usually, the more you think about something, the more sense it starts to make. But when it comes to Jekyll & Hyde's plot, I have opposing feelings: here, a little thinking just makes everything worse. The characters' motivations aren't explained, you don't really know why they do what they do... All in all, I feel the musical would need some rewriting, and I suspect I'm not the only one who thinks so. Add some dull songs and odd lyrics and you have a mess any theatre lover would have a reason to criticise.

However, for once, I don't even care. This production has stolen my heart. It's maybe the best musical I saw during the 2012–2013 season.

Sometimes, pure glitter and glamour is all you need. Turun kaupunginteatteri's Jekyll & Hyde delivers that. It's one of the prettiest productions I've ever seen in Finland and firmly in my top five of prettiest productions anywhere ever.

I love it when things are done big. There are times and places for simple and minimalistic, but I adore a full-blown period-costumed spectacle spiced with some flames and bulletwounds. Jekyll & Hyde has it all. The set is big and beautiful. From leads to every member of ensemble hidden in the shadows of the set, every costume is lovely to look at. And the special effects, blood and pyrotechnics! They all left me staring at the stage with my mouth open. This production is absolutely beautiful.

Teemu Loikas's sets, Pirjo Liiri-Majava's costumes, Janne Teivainen's lights, the work of everyone involved with the visuals of this production – my applause.

Luckily, the acting and singing are just as good as the visuals.

I guess everyone was a bit surprised when first hearing Riku Nieminen would be cast in the titular role. He is famous in Finland for many things, but not for starring roles in musical theatre – before now. Based on the little I knew about the show beforehand, I thought Nieminen seemed quite different from the other actors famous for the role and wondered if he's really the best one for the part or if it's just a case of stunt casting... After seeing the show twice, I can safely say he's a great pick.

Especially when remembering this is his first leading role in a musical, I think Nieminen's singing was impressive. Some strained notes here and there, but as a whole, I loved listening to his voice. I also admired his physicality. How is it even possible he can do a backflip and sing at the same time..?

Nieminen's acting was also impressive, he did a good job portraying the main character's both sides. Reading the book the musical is based on, I was disappointed that Henry Jekyll's looks changed when he took the potion that transformed him into Edward Hyde. It was also underwhelming to find out that many productions of the musical do something similar, with tricks such as different hairstyles for Jekyll and Hyde. I feel it's much more fascinating if the transformation makes Jekyll's personality and mannerisms, instead of his looks, so different that even his friends can't recognise him. Though it demands some suspension of disbelief, I'm glad the Finnish production took the latter route instead of messing around with hairdos.

The leading ladies, Jennie Storbacka as Emma and Anna Victoria Eriksson as Lucy, were talented too. It'd be interesting to see their characters explored further, it's a shame the script doesn't allow them to do much else than pine about a guy – but they at least delivered said pining beautifully! Special nod to Severi Saarinen as Jekyll's friend Utterson. His performance ensured that Utterson became my number one favourite character in a matter of minutes.

Even though everything else is pure goodness, I have to return to the plot for a minute. I feel it's a shame the musical doesn't delve deeper into a certain theme: is the main character Henry Jekyll hooked on being Edward Hyde and seeks the transformation voluntarily, or is it an experiment that's gotten out of hand? The director Tuomas Parkkinen mentioned addiction many times before the musical's premiere. I feel the theme could have been explored more thoroughly in the actual show. As it is, the issue is just briefly touched upon. This musical is a treat for those who enjoy coming up with their own backstories and solutions – the plot and direction don't offer many unambiguous answers.

I could go on about the plot and its faults for longer, but ultimately, I don't truly care. Sitting in the audience (which I no doubt will be doing in the fall again), the holes in the plot don't bother me. I just enjoy the beautiful spectacle.

Photos by Robert Seger.

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