Performing Arts of San Antonio opened Frank Wildhorn’s popular musical Jekyll & Hyde this past weekend. If you are not familiar with this company, it is located in a strip center location right off of 281, just north of the Hill Country Village entrance. It is also an arts school for children and adults, many of whom were in the production.
The musical is based on Stevenson’s classic thriller, Jekyll & Hyde, a gripping drama of a brilliant mind gone horrifically wrong. Set to a melodious pop-rock score by Frank Wildhorn with book and lyrics by Leslie Briscusse, the musical contains many hit songs from the Broadway songbook.
In an attempt to cure his ailing father’s mental illness by separating “good” from “evil” in the human personality, talented physician Dr. Jekyll, played by Ramsey Sweatmon, son of the late great local actor and educator, Marian Sweatmon, inadvertently creates an alternate personality of pure evil, dubbed Mr. Hyde, who wreaks murderous havoc on all those who oppose funding for his scientific curiosities in the city of London. As his fiancée Emma, played by Lauren Campion, grows increasingly fearful for her betrothed, a prostitute, Lucy, performed by Alyssa Lopez, finds herself dangerously involved with both the doctor and his alter ego. Struggling to control Hyde before he takes over for good, Jekyll races to find a cure for the demon he has created in his own mind.
PASA performs in a small black box theatre with about 100 seats. From the moment you enter there is a strong sense of community, with many of the young actors greeting their friends and colleagues as they enter. The theater is a work in progress with many elements of production still needing to be improved, such as lighting design and equipment, sound enhancement control, lack of wing space and questionable set design and prop pieces for the stage. Noting these limitations of a growing organization, the production itself is a very challenging piece to succeed in presenting. Possessing large chorus numbers, many entrances and exits, and a driving tempo that has to beat like a strong heart throughout each musical number, PASA should be congratulated for even attempting such a difficult undertaking.
Stage director Vaughn Taylor, utilizes her performance space creating many unorthodox places for exits and entrances. Her direction is workable at best, with many of the most powerful scenes losing their intensity due to questionable choices in blocking and character expression. The 3-piece band, led by Music Director Lyn Rousay, played off to the side and actually made a very good impression, keeping the tempos for the most part lively and fast paced.
Ramsey Sweatmon, is a much better Henry Jekyll than an Edward Hyde. Displaying a nice lyrical tenor in Jekyll’s sympathetic character, his solo “This is the Moment” was done with vocal power and sensitivity in acting. His Hyde counterpart was a bit over the top with his famous transformation turning Jekyll into a deranged wolf or doglike character, jumping and leaping off of various set levels, but rarely embodying a truly evil and sinister character that Hyde needs to have. This is one of the most difficult characters in musical theatre to capture. His love, Emma was performed on a high level of performance by a Lauren Campion. Her attractive lyric soprano was a highlight in many of the most poignant moments of the musical. Certainly, Lucy was the show stealer. With accurate and natural character development throughout the show, her voice possessed all of the hopes and dreams of a lowly Parisian prostitute, only searching for a glimmer of kindness from anyone, even Hyde. “Bring on the Men,” and her moments in “Dangerous Game,” are worth the price of admission.
The chorus did a fairly decent job in spitting out the fast dialogue associated by Briscusse’s lyrics. Their facial gestures and stage presence were for the most part engaging. Standouts in the supporting leads include Edward Jones, as Simon Stride, with a beautiful baritone instrument, and Lauren Cole as Nellie, only performing small ensemble solos throughout the show, but each being done with excellent diction and pitch.
There is a great power given to the audience in performing in an intimate setting, the audience is so close to the action that it feels like they are a part of the production. This also can be bad when certain fight/murder scenes are not staged to perfection, the audiences gets to see all intended head impact from a cane miss the characters head by a least a foot. In a fairness this was the opening weekend of the production, and sometimes it takes a few runs of show to work out the bugs.
San Antonio needs more theatre and in locations such as PASA. The show runs through July 30th. Tickets can purchased by going to WWW.PERFORMINGARTSSA.ORG. PASA is located at 15705 San Pedro Ave.