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Good Jekyll, bad Hyde, great show at Laurel Mill Playhouse

Gary Eurice stars in the lead role of "Jekyll & Hyde" at Laurel Mill Playhouse.
Gary Eurice stars in the lead role of "Jekyll & Hyde" at Laurel Mill Playhouse. (Courtesy photo / Laurel Mill Playhouse)

Laurel Mill Playhouse is ushering in spring with a winning production of “Jekyll & Hyde,” a musical horror-drama loosely based on the Robert Louis Stevenson novella that has thrilled readers since “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” sprang to life in the late 19th century.

Conceived a century later by Steve Cuden and Frank Wildhorn (with book and lyrics by Leslie Bricusse and music by Wildhorn), the stage musical debuted in Texas in 1990 and toured the U.S. prior to appearing for the first time on Broadway seven years later.

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“Jekyll and Hyde” has claimed dozens of theater award nominations (winning six) and touring internationally. The most recent Broadway revival ran in 2013, and a film adaptation of the popular musical is currently in the works.

Produced and directed at Laurel Mill Playhouse by Maureen Rogers and Michael Hartsfield, respectively, with music direction by Mimi McGinniss, “Jekyll and Hyde” fills the pulsing Playhouse to the rafters.

The minimalist black set designed by Hartsfield easily accommodates a lively cast choreographed by Brook Urquhart and Ilene Chalmers.

A blood-red color theme in lighting illuminates a sketch of Leonardo da Vinci’s “Vitruvian Man” on the upstage wall flat, where black curtains open to reveal Jekyll’s laboratory. The symbolic color also threads visually to a plush chair, laboratory props and to some of Marge McGugan’s striking 19th-century costumes.

Lead costumer McGugan — assisted by Lynn Kellner, Brianna Scheeler, Mary Wakefield and Sascha Nelson — delivers on the promise made by outdoor promo photos of beautifully costumed characters.

Other carefully executed details — the newspaper props brandished by the ensemble after each murder, delicious death scenes, excellent timing during and between scenes and McGinniss’ live piano accompaniment — add to a visually and musically exciting production.

As the lights rise, Henry Jekyll (played by Gary Eurice), his future father-in-law (Kevin Wilson as Sir Danvers Carew) and best friend/lawyer (Brett Rohrer as John Utterson) step back in time to an insane asylum where Jekyll’s father (Patrick Pase) lies comatose.

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Jekyll espouses his belief that evil is the root of his father’s insanity. In “I Need to Know,” he sings compassionately about yearning to discover how good and evil coexist in every man, and how to purge the evil to cure mental malaise.

Enter the ensemble to highlight the hypocrisy of all members of society in “Façade” and the pendulum between good and evil begins to swing.

When Simon Stride (Joe Downs), Sir Danvers Carew (Wilson) and the Board of Governors (Chalmers, Jill Vanderweit, Brandon Seehoffer, Lenny Dinerman and Michael Safko) vote down “Jekyll’s Plea” to use a formula he’s invented to test his theory on a patient, the doctor drinks it himself and conjures his alternate personality, the evil Hyde.

And the nightmare begins.

Eurice is mesmerizing as Jekyll/Hyde, defining both characters with all the contrast, passion and physicality the lead role requires; very little suspension of disbelief is needed to accept Jekyll as unrecognizable when he appears as the monster.

His near flawless vocal performances, including “This is the Moment” and “Lost in the Darkness,” are always standouts.

And the chemistry Jekyll/Hyde creates with his ladies, Emma and Lucy, is captivating.

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As Jekyll’s fiancé, Emma, Malarie Zeeks seemed a little out of her vocal comfort zone in the soprano role Saturday night. But she has a pleasing voice — her performance of “Take Me as I Am” with Eurice is charming — and the strong, ingenuous and genuine character she delivers breaks hearts.

As the gentle prostitute befriended by Jekyll and terrorized by Hyde, Chelsea Paradiso as Lucy owns every song she sings and every moment she’s on stage. Her consistently soulful, standout performances include lovely numbers such as “Someone Like You” and “A New Life.”

Veteran actors Rohrer and Wilson also act and sing very well in their pivotal roles.

Hartsfield has assembled a delightful, eclectic ensemble — Curt Somers (who also appears as Spider), Ronald Araujo (Poole), Emily Simmons (Bisset), Delaney McGinnis (Newsboy), Pase (Patient), Robert Cicconetti, Taylor Cusak, Marge McGugan, Leslie Robinson, Megan Safko and Miranda Snyder — to create color and comic relief.

Together, they shine in song and dance, but particularly when creating a spine-chilling surprise in Somers’ solo, “Façade — Reprise 2 (Spider’s Song).”

“Jekyll and Hyde” continues through May 19 Laurel Mill Playhouse, 508 Main St., with Friday and Saturday performances at 8 p.m. and Sunday matinee performances May 12 and 19 at 2 p.m. General admission is $22; seniors 65 and older pay $17. For tickets, go to laurelmillplayhouse.org.

Understudy Lori Brunn will perform as Lady Savage on May 12.

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