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Jekyll & Hyde

Composer Frank Wildhorn (The Scarlett Pimpernel) is known for making major changes to his shows during long germination periods, even during their Broadway runs and thereafter. In Southland mountings of this hit Wildhorn pop-opera, someone else has picked up the mantle. Director Paul Hadobas was associated with the show during many incarnations as performer, makeup designer, and dance captain and reportedly made significant tweaks for the 2001 Fullerton Civic Light Opera staging. For the South Bay Civic Light Opera rendition, Hadobas brought those revisions along with him. I've never seen this musical, so I viewed it baggage-free. SBCLO deserves kudos for mounting a consummately performed and visually exciting production. But despite the reported tinkering, this critically maligned vehicle easily lives down to its reputation.

A long and lumbering affair that falls somewhere between kitsch, faux-serious Victorian Grand Guignol, and Disneyland pyrotechnics, it's like being subjected to the remnants of Andrew Lloyd Webber's wastebasket. Two or three captivating songs are surrounded by a lot of musical drek. Librettist/lyricist Leslie Bricusse formerly did extraordinary work (Stop the World--I Want To Get off), but his lyrics here exhibit the same clodhopping banality of his songs for Victor/Victoria, and his book is equally turgid. Wildhorn, ever determined to meld pop-music styles with various historical periods, has fashioned an unremarkable score overstuffed with bombastic 1970s-flavored ballads and droning recitative. As in the 2001 La Jolla premiere of Wildhorn's Dracula, soon Broadway-bound, most of the Jekyll songs are so unmelodic that one wishes the actors could just forget the damn music and revert to dialogue.

Thankfully, seasoned performers put their best feet forward. The good/bad doctor of the title--an iconic schizophrenic figure of literature, film, and now theatre--is in the assured hands of Kevin Bailey, who boasts a powerful voice and formidable presence. As the noble Dr. Jekyll, he bears a resemblance to Liam Neeson; when the ponytail comes down as he morphs into murderous madman Hyde, he looks like Fabio on a bad-hair day. But let's not blame Bailey for ludicrous effects engendered by the hokey material. Stellar veteran performers Misty Cotton and Kim Huber sing exquisitely as the romantic heroines; Cotton brings vulnerability and fire to the role of beleaguered hooker Lucy Harris, and Huber is properly classy and sympathetic as Jekyll's befuddled fiancee. Brenda Cox does exemplary work in dual roles, John Bisom excels as Jekyll's supportive pal and lawyer, and Eric Anderson gleefully sinks his teeth into the villainous role of Simon Stride. The entire ensemble is superb; the group numbers are effectively staged and well sung, courtesy of choreographer Lee Martino and music director/conductor Steven Smith.

The production design is astonishing. The massive-looking sets by Dwight Richard Odle create an awe-inspiring milieu. Steven Young's deliciously moody lighting is exquisite, and Sharell Martin's costumes exude flair. If only the material were as artful and satisfying as this staging. As we approached the 11 p.m. mark and Hyde crooned, "Can't you see, it's over now," I breathed an enormous sigh of relief.

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