In every heart is a delicate dichotomy of good versus evil. This inner tension has inspired art and literature for ages. Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1886 gothic novella, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, took the metaphorical struggle and made it literal. It’s the tale of two men trapped in one body. Henry Jekyll is a passionate, romantic doctor; Edward Hyde is an unhinged, uncontrollable madman unleashed when the doctor makes himself the subject of his own experimental treatments. In print, on screen and on stage, the supernatural story continues to delight audiences more than a century later. Indeed, the questions it posed in Victorian England are just as timely today: How does a perfectly reasonable fellow transform into a terrifying fiend? If modern medicine could isolate and potentially eradicate evil, should it do so? Or would such experiments lead to catastrophe?
The Alhambra Theatre & Dining revives the Stevenson classic with its latest production, Jekyll & Hyde. This isn’t a carbon-copy of the original, however. Leslie Bricusse’s musical adaptation introduces new characters and themes, a fascinating love triangle and a significantly more dramatic finale.
“It’s a dark time. It’s Halloween,” producer and director Tod Booth told Folio Weekly. “What better time to tell a dark story? This is heavier [than our usual productions]. This is where you root for the good guy, and everything goes wrong. I would compare it to Phantom of the Opera in that it’s got that dark feeling to it. This show is very exciting. This show has a beautiful score. It’s a real theater-goer’s delight because of the size of it and the feel of it and so forth.”
If you’re into light, uplifting plotlines, this isn’t the show for you. There’s murder, violence, prostitution and implied sexual assault—so leave the kids at home and prepare to be shocked. The dichotomy of good versus unbridled evil, the ugliness of social inequality and the tribulations of mental health are potent themes.
Casting Jekyll & Hyde proved uniquely challenging even for Booth, a theater veteran of more than 50 years and 500 productions. “It’s very difficult to do,” he explained. “You have to have these tremendous, tremendous voices. And of course when I cast it, that’s what I had in mind—this big sound. You take two top artists or top actors and you put them together and you get a chemistry there, and that magic creates something wonderful, more than you could have ever anticipated. If you do it right!”
Booth did it right, because the operatic vocals of his principal performers permeate the Alhambra’s dining hall and shake the audience to the core. Jacksonville resident Justin Murphy plays Jekyll/Hyde, and his shocking battle-of-the-soul performance of “Confrontation” finds him seamlessly morphing between alter egos in a frantic battle for identity.
Traci Bair plays Emma Carew, Jekyll’s wife-to-be. The New York City-based performer has regional and national credits to her name. “I found her in New York last year and brought her in to do Kiss Me Kate,” Booth said. “She’s so wonderful and has this incredible soprano voice. That’s why I cast her opposite Justin. In other words, the voices have to match.”
With the actors cast, the set had to be conceived and built, costumes had to be designed or acquired, props gathered, and out-of-town cast members flown in and housed locally. Cast and crew logged 52 rehearsal hours before opening night. According to Booth, it’s in the rehearsal hall where the magic happens.
“You get a song, you get an actor, you get a moment in a show and you have to develop it to the most perfect level you can,” he explained. “Once the show is open, we put it on stage and ‘freeze’ it. It grows from there, but in proportions. Each show has a unity to it like every painting does and a certain technique, a certain style.”
By opening night, every detail has been meticulously considered, from the musical numbers and choreography to the incredible gothic library upon entry to the spooky set and period costumes waiting to transport audience members back to Victorian London. The atmosphere is all-encompassing. This is exactly what theater should be.
“Theater has always played an important role in society,” Booth said. “It’s something live. It’s something that you sense. It’s not something [where] you sit back and relax. Theater does not exist without an audience. It takes that participation of the audience, sitting on the edge of their chairs, gasping. Everything is geared to that audience. It’s participation. Too much of life, you just sit back. You sit back and listen to music or watch a movie. You sit there and watch television. This is an experience. The theater always has been and always will be an experience. When it isn’t, then it will die. But if we as artists can keep making it exciting and something participatory, it’ll live forever.”
Jekyll & Hyde is just such an experiential feast for the senses. “It’s real,” Booth said. “It happens right before your eyes. It happens each night. You can’t shoot a scene twenty times and choose the best take for this one and the best take for that one and put together what you want for an audience. It happens every night fresh and new. That’s what’s exciting about the theater.”