Monday, September 7, 2015

Dr. Jekyll Returns

Please note: Jyväskylän kaupunginteatteri invited me to see the premiere of Jekyll & Hyde for free. The invitation was a thank-you for writing an article about the musical's history for the programme. When you go see the show, don't forget to buy one or three.

Before I delve into Jyväskylän kaupunginteatteri's new production of Jekyll & Hyde, I need to make a disclaimer. I've made it before, but it bears repeating.

I do not think Jekyll & Hyde, composed by Frank Wildhorn with a book by Leslie Bricusse and Steve Cuden, is a good musical. And yet, if you've read my blog for a while, you know I also call Jekyll & Hyde one of my top three favourite musicals of all times.

That is solely because of Turun kaupunginteatteri's 2013–14 production, directed by Tuomas Parkkinen. That production did the impossible: it turned a terrible script into a magical experience that has haunted and inspired me ever since. It wasn't by any means perfect, but somehow, the elements clicked together so well that the whole was ten times more than the sum of its parts. With tweaks and additions to the script, with unique directional choices and top-notch casting, and with help from gorgeous visuals, Parkkinen was able to lift the production way, way above the mediocre source material.

After seeing the Turku production, I've been watching bootlegs to find another Jekyll & Hyde I'd really enjoy. So far, no such luck. The productions I've watched are laden with directional clichés and tacky performances – and yet, I keep watching. I know there is potential. I want to see the show saved again. It's a true love-hate relationship with a strong obsessive streak.

This autumn in Finland, the miracle almost happens again. Jyväskylän kaupunginteatteri's Jekyll & Hyde avoids many of the clichés and does many things right. And yet, it is no more than a good production of a lacking musical.

Let's again start with the bad things.

Jyväskylän kaupunginteatteri's Jekyll & Hyde is imbalanced. The first act is moves at a good pace, it's filled with interesting details and fun to watch. The second act falls quite flat. After the intermission, the show suddenly feels slow, boring and laughably melodramatic, even for the gothic horror genre.

I was especially disappointed with the scene that culminates the second act, Jekyll and Hyde's duet Confrontation.

A duet in between two sides of the same man, it's a hard scene to get exactly right – but it's as if this production didn't even try. Common tricks for distinguishing whether it's Jekyll or Hyde singing include changing the lights or the actor varying his posture or even flipping his hair back and forth... Here, none of that. I suppose leading man Henri Halkola did his best, but even so, I really had a hard time telling which one was supposed to be singing.

Actually, Confrontation was not the only time I had difficulties telling the titular characters apart. Maybe director Anssi Valtonen was trying to make a point, underlining the two-sides-of-the-same-coin aspect of the characters – but I believe a more clear distinction would work better onstage.

Then the good things.

Saara Jokiaho and Maria Lund as Jekyll and Hyde's respective girlfriends, the upper-class Emma and prostitute Lucy, add as much personality and thought into their underwritten characters as humanly possible. The female leads are in a perfect balance, both shining but neither overshadowing the other. One of the finest Emma and Lucy duos I've had the fortune of watching.

I also really enjoyed Hannu Lintukoski's Utterson. In international productions, Jekyll's friend and lawyer is too often portrayed as a living, breathing piece of scenery Jekyll can open his heart to. Luckily not here! Lintukoski's performance is a good mix of comic relief and old-fashioned gentleman, calm manners and heartrending worry for his friend. Loyal to the very end, everyone would be lucky to have a friend like him.

The show looks lovely. Marjatta Kuivasto's sets and Merja Levo's costumes create a pretty, steampunk-inspired world for the characters to explore. I especially like Emma's bright turquoise costume and pilot glasses perched on top of her hat. The often overshadowed character makes a visual impression from the first moment. Just by looking at her, you can tell she spends her free nights cruising the streets of London in her state-of-the-art steam-powered car!

The direction emphasises some aspects that usually get overshadowed. I especially liked Hyde and Lucy's relationship... though I wonder if like is the right word to use. I mean to say I was both terrified and fascinated. Hyde's calm abuse is scary to watch. I also applaud Halkola's efforts at painting Jekyll as a three-dimensional character, with both good and bad qualities, though his hands are somewhat tied by the script's Henry Jekyll is a perfect saint point of view.

The first act has a perfect light tongue-in-the-cheek tone. The show doesn't take itself too seriously and is peppered with dashes of humor. For me, that's the best way of making a heavy melodrama like this enjoyable.

I'm glad I saw Jyväskylän kaupunginteatteri's production of Jekyll & Hyde. I will go see it again.

I can tell the creative team has thought about the story a lot, the production is clearly made with love. It's a fine take on the source material – but in the end, my problems with said source material hinder my enjoyment. The show is well worth seeing for all its good aspects and very entertaining, more entertaining than any of the international bootlegs I've watched. But it's still Jekyll & Hyde the musical.

For better and for worse.

Edited to add 2/12/2015: I'm having second thoughts. Read my addendum to this review.

Photos by Jiri Halttunen.
Keskisuomalaisen kriitikko Aino Martiskainen tylyttää tiukasti – mutta aiheesta. Mielipiteeni käsikirjoituksesta tiivistyvät täydelleen Martiskaisen arvostelussa.
Suomeksi muissa blogeissa: Melodrama and Sweet Champagne, One Night in Theatre, Varje dag är en dag för musikaler

No comments:

Post a Comment