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Getting Musical in the Laboratory of Good and Evil : La Mirada production of 'Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde' soars high in first half, takes a turn in the last.

THEATER | STAGE REVIEW

October 09, 1997|LAURIE WINER | TIMES THEATER CRITIC

Scary musicals come in pairs. Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Phantom of the Opera" competes, if only marginally, with its poor cousin, Maury Yeston's "Phantom." Anyone who's seen the pompous "Jekyll & Hyde" currently on Broadway might be interested to know there's another "Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde" out there, and it opened at La Mirada Saturday night. (The two "Jekylls" actually crossed paths here before, in 1995.)

Lighter in tone and more modest in ambition, this "Jekyll" doesn't scream its ideas at you. In the title role, the winning Robert Yacko offers the antidote to Broadway's anguished Robert Cuccioli (who incidentally played the Yeston Phantom). Where Cuccioli is so tortured even his hairdo acts upset, Yacko offers a freewheeling Hyde, a man who finds it delightful to be liberated of late-Victorian manners. He's the modern, urban stud dwelling inside the socially befuddled scientist-nerd. In the first act, his worst crime is a penchant for throwing off Groucho-like zingers. Evaluating a tall prostitute, he coolly informs her, "No, thank you. I have a morbid fear of heights."

Hyde's crimes escalate, of course, but in Yacko's entertaining, fluid performance, Hyde is not unspeakably evil but simply devilishly amusing when everyone around him is boring. This is a refreshing, low-key interpretation of Robert Louis Stevenson's tale. Book writer Leonora Thuna sustains it admirably until the top of the second act, at which point the story dutifully starts its return to the original thread and wilts.

Norman Sachs provides some pretty and catchy melodies, though they call to mind songs from "Candide," "My Fair Lady" and "Man of La Mancha." When the songs get serious, lyricist Mel Mandel seriously lies down on the job. A love song called "Sunlight" has not an original line in it.

Thuna has enlivened Jekyll's main squeeze by making her a thinking woman--a pamphleteering advocate for Fabianism. No one seems to have told soprano Dale Kristien, though, whose impressive vocal range exceeds her acting range. Paul Ainsley, Mark Capri and Clay Storseth are very funny as a doltish trio of Jekyll's friends. In the ensemble, Jennifer Shelton stands out with her stunning smile and lovely voice.

Director Jules Aaron does his best work at the top of Act 2, a parody of light opera that is quite witty. This "Jekyll" may not have the engine to get itself to Broadway, but at least, for half of the time, its motor runs smoothly.

Robert Yacko: Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde

Dale Kristien: Margaret

With: Tyler Walz, Dylan Thomas, Meg Lugaric, Stephanie Lane, Robert Amberg, Ian Kerr, Bryce Robinson, J. Dolan Byrnes, Pat Lach, Jennifer Shelton, Tiffany Fletcher, Anette Sanders , Jennifer Stein, Paul Ainsley, Clay Storseth, Mark Capri

A Musical Theatre West production. Book by Leonora Thuna. Music by Norman Sachs. Lyrics by Mel Mandel. Directed by Jules Aaron. Musical director Stephen Gothold. Choreographer Lee Martino. Sets Gary Wissmann. Lights Martin Aronstein. Sound Chuck McCarroll. Costumes Mela Hoyt-Heydon. Production stage manager Lisa Palmire.

BE THERE

"Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde," La Mirada Theatre, 14900 La Mirada Blvd., Today-Saturday, Oct. 16-18, 8 p.m.; Saturday-Sunday, Oct. 18-19, 2:30 p.m. Ends Oct. 19. $30-$32. (714) 521-4TIX, (888) 554-MUSIC. Running time: 2 hours, 40 minutes.

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