Evil never looked so good

QMT returns to The Grand Theatre in style with Jekyll & Hyde

Jon Bell and Merritt Crews star in QMT’s 40th-anniversary performance of the classic Robert Stevenson tale.
Jon Bell and Merritt Crews star in QMT’s 40th-anniversary performance of the classic Robert Stevenson tale.
Jekyll & Hyde’s 25-person cast brings the stage alive during its big, bold numbers.
Jekyll & Hyde’s 25-person cast brings the stage alive during its big, bold numbers.

Much is left ambiguous in Queen’s Musical Theatre’s production of Jekyll & Hyde—is that rust or blood dripping off of the beams in the show’s massive, tiered set? Who is responsible for the demise of Edward Hyde? But what’s clear from the get go is the audience is witnessing something special.

QMT pulls out all the stops in this production as it celebrates its 40th anniversary and return to The Grand Theatre. The new space is larger and more professional looking than previous venues for QMT—qualities mirrored by the show itself. The 25-person cast is bigger than in previous years, the score trickier and the choreography more intense.

The voices of the well-dressed ensemble combine with powerful effect, and the hard-hitting group numbers keep the pace of the show moving in the face of more drawn out solo songs.

Fortunately, the show’s leads are all equally strong, though special mention should be afforded to the female characters, an interesting addition to the musical not found in the Stevenson novella. Evangelia Kambites’s Nellie commands—and deserves—the attention of the audience. While Merritt Crews can belt it with the best of them during her sassy debut number “Bring on the Men,” her impeccably controlled performance of “Someone Like You” just might break your heart.

Overall, the show’s

choreography is at its best when it’s punchy. But the more intense ballet and ballet-inspired moves seem difficult to co-ordinate and notably end up appearing less fluid than the rest of the dancing, which distracts from the singing it’s supposed to be complementing.

Jon Bell, as Henry Jekyll himself, carries off his dual role with appropriate drive and creepiness. He’s especially admirable during “Confrontation,” in which he performs an emotionally charged duet—with himself. Although it might have been nice to see a greater physical change from Jekyll to Hyde, it would have been practically impossible given the constraints of time and live theatre. Bell manages to carve out a second character with just his acting skills: a seriously deep voice, tousled hair and a terrifying glint in his eyes create the adequate effect.

Despite scenes of murder, violence and borderline rape, Jekyll & Hyde presents some very tender moments, particularly between Emma Carew and her father Sir Danvers, played by Sarah Angus and Michael Ceci respectively. During “Letting Go,” Sir Danvers comes to terms with his daughter’s impending departure for a new life as a married woman, giving the musical a touch of warmth in the wake of so much seriousness.

The script is a rather odd mixture of sly one-liners, ethical and philosophical musings and the occasional bit of cheese (“Rest now, my tormented love”) and it’s the greatest danger to one’s enjoyment of the show. But the cast and director Alain Richer have managed to combat the long-standing critique of Jekyll & Hyde as a dull play, creating spectacle and adding drama where needed with interesting blocking and vibrant group dynamics.

To its credit, the script examines a plethora of issues as relevant today as they were in the Victorian era. The conflicts between good and evil, science and religion, public and private, are just as interesting as the conflicts between the play’s characters.

The staging makes ample use of the larger space and better equipment, and transitions feel organic as the ensemble takes on the role of stage crew, somehow managing to change the set during scenes without interrupting the audience’s suspension of disbelief.

The final scene seems somewhat anticlimactic as compared to the lead-up. The quality of the group numbers appeared to be guiding the musical to a show-stopping finale, but instead Jekyll & Hyde concludes with the beginnings of a wedding and a hazy scuffle, which may result in some misty eyes, but then it’s curtains down.

For the most part, this musical does pack its worth of quality drama and the incredibly talented orchestra is almost as large as the cast, providing appropriate accompaniment for songs and dramatic spoken moments alike.

The spectacle that is Jekyll & Hyde feels right at home in the renovated Grand, a flashy relocation that adds to the overwhelming feeling that this is a special occasion. QMT consistently features talented performers, and this is no exception, but it has also has that indescribable something extra. As Jon Bell sings during a climactic solo, this is QMT’s moment.

Jekyll & Hyde plays at The Grand Theatre until Jan. 18. Tickets are $17 for students.

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