'Jekyll & Hyde': The good, the horrifying, and the horrifyingly good
- Mirava M. Yuson () - April 9, 2012 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Of all the possible stories to adapt to the stage, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde should come as one of the least surprising to everyone. Robert Louis Stevenson’s famous novella is especially ripe for “musicalification,” with heart-wrenching solos that are easily imaginable, and the occasional mob song here and there. Steve Cuden and Frank Wildhorn did just that for Jekyll & Hyde in 1997, expanding the story to include a significantly larger cast of characters of their own creation.

While the musical retains the trademark themes of duality (song titles such as Façade and Transformation are telling enough), Jekyll is now a largely sympathetic character. More than just the generous, mysterious man of the novel, he has been made more Ibarra-esque in his idealism, equipped with a rebellious streak and some arm-candy, namely his immaculate fiancée Emma (Cris Villonco).

Only, instead of turning into Simoun, he transforms into Richard III. Edward Hyde is a crooked, hunchbacked man in black, with a penchant for angry monologues and living up to the very definition of shady. He is notably more toned down in this version, as he is more calculated and targets people he knows personally rather than stomping on a random child on the street (like in the original).

Nevertheless, whereas the novel greatly emphasizes the physical differences between the two personas, the play faces the age-old question: to go about casting two different actors or simply have one? The myriad adaptations from the novel tend to go either way. Then again, live productions would never scrimp on showcasing their actors’ talents.

In the current Repertory Philippines production, Michael Williams and Jett Pangan alternate in playing both Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. A notable stage veteran, Michael Williams marks the divide very clearly, down to vocal inflections, tics and all. As the crux of the whole thing, he delivers wonderfully, shining in particular with This is the Moment.

The entire cast consists of experienced performers with plenty of roles under their belts, including Kalila Aguilos (Lucy Harris) and Junix Inocian (Gabriel John Utterson). Lucy, an escort torn between Jekyll and Hyde while not connecting the two, serves as a foil for Emma. Unfortunately, both characters do not pass the Bechdel test — as it turns out, the voices harmonize better with each other, which cannot be said for their character intentions when it comes to serving the audience.

The ensemble a.k.a. Greek chorus with the neatly-blended voices proves impressive, with the collective vocal prowess matching that of a well-oiled gospel choir in both size and strength, even as a group consisting of only about a dozen performers. Every singer sings with utmost clarity, and combined with a properly volume-d orchestra, it all makes for a variety of pleasant-sounding tunes. 

It is a strange case, indeed, for Jekyll & Hyde, because the deftness of actors is actually quite limited by the constraints of the play itself. For a production originally crafted in the ‘90s, it comes off as much more archaic, showcasing the Victorian era as sleepy rather than suppressed. The character of Dr. Jekyll ends up easily overpowered by the memorable ferocity and ramblings of Mr. Hyde. The story really begins to pick up when he comes into play, perhaps because of his depiction here as an almost vigilante-type figure with a cane for administering warped justice.

The result is an imbalance of sorts, and the choice of which persona one is supposed to root for ends up being one-sided. And even though that asymmetry should be the last quality accentuated by a musical that may be said to be all about the never-ending war between yin and yang, Jekyll & Hyde is still a fine display of some of the very best talent Repertory Philippines has to offer.

* * *

Directed by Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo, Jekyll & Hyde will have performances until April 22, with weekly shows at Greenbelt 2 on Fridays (8 p.m.), Saturdays (3:30 p.m. and 8 p.m.) and Sundays (3:30 p.m. and 8 p.m.). Tickets are available at TicketWorld (http://www.ticketworld.com.ph).

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