Robert Louis Stevenson's 1886 novella The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde of course involves a personality-altering experiment that goes disastrously awry. Alchemy of a different sort is on view in Fullerton Civic Light Opera's reinvention of the Broadway musical adaptation of the book. For a 2001 FCLO staging, director Jan Duncan and co-adapter Paul Hadobas made substantial tweaks to the 1997 tuner (book and lyrics by Leslie Bricusse, music by Frank Wildhorn). Their retooling was authorized by the licensor, Music Theatre International, which subsequently released this version for productions nationwide. It's heartening to discover that this often-maligned pop opera has been greatly improved. And Duncan's triumph goes far beyond upgrading the libretto. Her gorgeously staged and marvelously performed production boasts a Broadway-caliber sheen.
The formerly long-winded first act moves along swiftly, and the show's tone is at last frightening rather than ludicrous. Gone is the kitschy sensibility that marred the original, which brought to mind the crass commercial mush of Webber's Phantom of the Opera. Now we have bloodcurdling Gothic terror and psychological depth -- closer in spirit to Sweeney Todd. Helping Duncan achieve her transformation are a magnificent production design and spot-on performances. Dwight Richard Odle's sprawling set is majestic, and Jeffery S. Marsh's special effects are magical. Sharell Martin's costumes are spectacular, and Christina Munich's lighting artfully enhances the goosebump-inducing story.
Even the so-so score -- with its prosaic recitative passages, anachronistic power ballads, and Vegas flourishes -- sounds better here, thanks to music director-conductor Lee Kreter and his vibrant orchestra. As the schizophrenic titular character(s), T. Eric Hart belts out bombastic numbers with brio and gives a tour-de-force portrayal in this challenging dual role. His hairdo shifts from long ponytail as scientist Jekyll to scraggly hanging locks as the demonic Hyde, but it's his astonishing transitions in voice, body language, and temperament that make the characterization so convincing and chilling. Sublime actor-singer Victoria Strong brings elegance and empathy to her role as Jekyll's beleaguered fiancée, Emma Carew. Kelli Provart does poignant work as the ill-fated prostitute Lucy. Expert support comes from Richard Kinsey, Jack Ritschel, John Racca, and others. The large ensemble shines in stirring choral numbers. The show's signature ballad, "This Is the Moment," offers a fitting description of FCLO's watershed achievement.
Presented by Fullerton Civic Light Opera at Plummer Auditorium,
201 E. Chapman Ave., Fullerton.
Thu.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 2 p.m. (Also Sun. 7 p.m. Oct. 21 and Sat. 2 p.m. Oct. 27.) Oct. 12-28.
(714) 879-1732. www.fclo.com.