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THEATER REVIEW - Jekyll & Hyde

by Chris Conley

THEATER PREVIEW (WSAU)  Tonight I’ll be at Antigo High School for the Antigo Theater Guild’s production of Jekyll & Hyde.

I saw the original cast production with Linda Eder (who has a singing voice that sounds a lot like Barbara Streisand) and Robert Cuccioli as Jekyll and Hyde. Critics hated it, as they often do for over-hyped Broadway debuts. I liked it – especially because the play has a contemporary pop score but is still true in sound to traditional musical theater. Almost by accident, I was offered tickets a few months later and saw understudy Rob Evan in the title role. He was also excellent.

The Broadway production was mishandled by the producers. They allowed David Hasselhoff to take over the role in a glorified publicity stunt. He’s a horrible singer, and not a Broadway-level talent. A revival this spring was also poorly-cast, and closed after a month amid very poor reviews.

I’m curious about the Antigo Theater Guild, a company made up mostly of recent-high school graduates who are looking for summer stock-type experiences. In the right hands, this can be a very enjoyable show. A friend who saw the opening night show on Thursday says it was well done. I’ll post my own review after tonight’s performance.

Chris Conley

THEATER REVIEW (WSAU)   There used to be a talent segment on A Prairie Home Companion for people from very small towns, less than 200 people I think. The best singer in Nowhere, Minnesota would need some allowances named if you were comparing them to any number of vocalists in St. Paul. That's my thought about the Antigo Theater Guild. It's out-of-the-way. It's also a combined group - the combined efforts of Antigo Community Theater and a group of recent high school graduates and college students who want a summer-theater experience. Still they probably don't have the same depth as some of the other theater groups I'm used to reviewing. 

Seth K. Hale would be at home on any stage in Central Wisconsin. His part is all-sung, and he's a pleasant-to-listen-to singer who carries us through the night. While his singing is fine, his transformations from Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde is more tricky. In the Broadway version of the show this quick-change is done with a pulley hidden under the actor's shirt, that with a quick tug lets his hair down to become menacing-looking. That stage trick is probably too tall an order at the community-theater level. Hale has to move from one role to another only with changes in voice and expression and lighting; But it leaves the audience wondering, at times, whether we're watching Jekyll or Hyde.

Our two leading ladies are talented, but both are uncomfortable fits in their roles. Mary Waterhouse looks great on stage as a fiance for Dr. Jekyll, but she has an operatic voice that doesn't match up with the pop-sounding score. Sarah McMahon, as Mr. Hyde's love-interest, heats up the stage easily. But her singing voice is more suited to front a rock or blues band. She doesn't always sing through the final notes of her songs, so sometimes words that the audience needs to move to story forward aren't heard clearly. It's entirely possible Waterhouse and McMahon were godsends to the cast. The former may have been the only person who could hit the high notes. The latter may have had the most soulful voice available.

Special credit goes to set designer Jeremy Doucette who came up with very effective projections that complimented the story perfectly.

There was a big crowd on Friday night, and the audience seemed to enjoy the performance.