Young Dr. Jekyll
Conceived by Philip Stern and Lisa Hopkins
Music and lyrics by Philip David Stern
Book by Tim Wells, Philip Stern and Lisa Hopkins
Directed by Lisa Hopkins
“Side effects may include plié, plié, plié, relevé!”
In the new musical “Young Dr. Jekyll,” co-presented by Proctors in Schenectady and New York State Originals, which has been working to develop this show, the two sons of Henry Jekyll — Robert Louis Stevenson’s character who discovered the inner/opposite of Jekyll he called Mister Hyde — are living together in 1890s London. Arthur is an artist, a painter of some genius, and Harry is a young scientist searching for the one thing that will get him acclaim and admittance to the Royal College of Scientific Minds. He stumbles across a drug that increases a person’s genius level and he works to make this into something he can present to his colleagues.
Like the characters in the opera “La Boheme,” the two brothers share a large garret studio, which is also occupied by a young medical student named Charlie. Unbeknownst to Harry but known to Arthur, Charlie is a girl in disguise at a time when women were not admitted to such schools. She loves Harry but is loved by Arthur. Therein lies the romantic part of this show. The rest of the musical, still in workshop development but aimed toward an off-Broadway run, is about the landlord, a nightclub singer from France, and the quest for success in science and the arts. The show is as timely as its topics, although these topics are never not relevant to our times.
The cast is pretty wonderful, delivering the drama, the music and the comedy expertly. Chris Isolano as Mr. Folsom, the landlord, is a comic standout. He does physical comedy wonderfully and he sings his lyrics with special humor and joy. Folsom’s oft-thwarted romance with Brigitte is as funny as can be even though Meghan Deeley’s French chanteuse is less adorable than she might be, her accent getting in the way of her dialogue.
James Hunsaker is a dynamic Harry (short for Henry, his father’s name, though this nickname has the same number of letters as his actual name—hmmm). Hunsaker has a natural face for the dynamics of parody that play throughout this role. We can see the madness grow in his movements, his eyes, his mouth, his chin. We can revel in his revelations as his entire body stretches and tingles with excitement. He sings very well, even though he occasionally seemed to stray from pitch, but it didn’t matter because his heart was truly invested in the words and music. As the central character in the play, Harry is safe in Hunsaker’s grasp; talent shows in a play like this one, and the parody never gets in the way of the reality here.
Cameron Nies plays his artist brother. This is the romantic role, as the role of artists usually are in these period affairs. Arthur is soulful and caring and totally misunderstood by just about everyone, and Nies plays these elements to perfection. He also sings like a 1950s dream. However, in the tiny theater space of the Addy on the third floor at Proctors, there were moments when his microphone went out and he couldn’t be heard in the second row of the theater. This is the current trend in professional training, I’m afraid, where young artists aren’t trained to project at all but merely to play for the headsets. Still, there was much to admire about this man’s voice and his interpretive style. Still, as the romantic lead, a man pining for the love he cannot have, Nies was perfection.
It’s just a shame that there wasn’t more variation in the music he and the others had to sing. Philip David Stern managed to come up with a theme that worked into almost every number, presenting the audience with a single wall of melodic sound that just wasn’t enthralling enough to be easily remembered. The show, very traditional in form, almost an operetta or light opera in texture and size, could have profited from a love song that made one thrill, a comic ballad that made one laugh, a romantic duet that pinged to the heart and mind. No such piece or pieces exist in this score, beautifully played and conducted.
Steven Medina’s scenic design, Charlotte McPherson’s lighting designs and Veronika Zamdmer’s costume designs were all excellent work, aiding the vision of director Lisa Hopkins, a co-conceiver of the project, who kept the show active and very much alive and real in its presentation. Her only problem is the show itself and its current crop of material. With a running time of just under two hours, a lot of time is spent repeating and repeating and repeating the same theme, which, unlike the similarly presented songs of Harry Warren in the 1930s Warner Brothers musical films, don’t register much in the brain.
I like the fact that a new musical can get this sort of a workshop production and can, hopefully, be further developed and put on a track for success. Its 24 musical numbers are as much a part of the book of the show as is the dialogue. The physical direction does the rest, a clear balance of input by the creators. The idea is wonderful, the company is excellent and the result is less enthralling than it ought to be. Here’s my hope: Keep working on it, playing it for audiences and doing the work needed to make it a hit show. It’s a unique piece and should be applauded and encouraged.
Young Dr. Jekyll plays in the Addy at Proctors, 432 State St., Schenectady, New York, through Sunday, June 16. For information and tickets, see the Berkshire Edge calendar, go to Proctors.org or call (518) 346-6204.