YORK Musical Theatre Company are marking their 120th anniversary with a new staging of Jekyll & Hyde The Musical.
Directed by Matthew Clare, York’s longest-running amateur theatre company are presenting Robert Louis Stevenson’s story of love, betrayal and murder from May 25 to 28, when the epic struggle between good and evil comes to life to the pop-rock score of Grammy and Tony Award-nominated Frank Wildhorn and double Oscar and Grammy-winning Leslie Bricusse.
Jekyll & Hyde has been described as a “niche musical”, prompting Matthew to say: “It was first done in Texas in the 1990s and it’s true it’s not been done commonly. Maybe its subject matter is off-putting to those who want something more family orientated: Annie comes without seven murders, doesn’t it – and I once did 17 productions of Annie in one year!
“But given that the music is phenomenal, we stood the chance of getting a really good cast, doing some music nights with musical director John Atkin going through some of the score, and we ended up with a really good turnout for the auditions.”
Among those auditionees was Glyndebourne Academy alumna Alexandra Mather, who will play Emma Carew. “The music has some operatic elements and strong musical theatre ones too,” she says.
“So, the show has that crossover appeal between the populism of Lloyd Webber and the sophistication of Sondheim. It’s Phantom meets Sweeney Todd, with the big power ballads for the Lloyd Webber factor and the interplay of Sondheim in the ensemble scenes.”
Stevenson’s tale of two men – one, a doctor, passionate and romantic; the other, a terrifying madman – and two women – one, beautiful and trusting; the other, beautiful and trusting only herself – finds both women in love with the same man and both unaware of his dark secret.
A devoted man of science, Dr Henry Jekyll is driven to find a chemical breakthrough that can solve the most challenging of medical dilemmas. Rebuffed by the powers-that-be, he decides to make himself the subject of his own experimental treatments, accidentally unleashing his inner demons, along with the man that the world would come to know as Mr Hyde.
“It’s a really powerful story rooted in Dr Jekyll looking for a cure for his father’s dementia,” says Matthew. “Most people can probably sympathise with that emotion, that desire, but the issue is that he becomes obsessed with it.”
Alexandra adds: “Jekyll doesn’t have a way to pursue this through the proper channels because it’s a one-man crusade and he ends up having to push Emma away because of what he’s doing.”
Anthony Gardner, cast as lawyer John Utterson, joins in: “Hyde is a diminished part of Jekyll. He’s juxtaposed with Utterson, who has all the correct moral values and represents stability.”
Matthew notes how Hyde is the only honest character in the story. “That’s a really weird thing to say about your villain, who’s always within Jekyll.”
How we might behave in any given situation depends on where we are in our lives, suggests Alexandra. “We are not constant,” she says. “Depending on where we are, it can bring out that other side.”
Anthony is playing “one of the more relatable characters”. “Utterson is Jekyll’s best friend but he’s also someone who steps out of the story and becomes a narrator, so as such his voice is one of the ones you can trust,” he says.
“He’s desperate to save his friend but he’s also blind to his faults so he’s always one step behind.”
Anthony has been “knocking around I don’t know how many companies all these years”, from York Light Opera Company to York Opera, the Bev Jones Music Company to York Musical Theatre Company. “But the draw to Jekyll & Hyde for me was very specific,” he says.
“I met my fiancée doing an abridged version at the ROSS Musical Theatre Performance School at Lancaster: a 45-minute version that still had all the murders and the full story.
“I had to play two characters: my first take on Utterson, a role suited to my style, and Spider; my now fiancée was playing Lucy Harris, the prostitute, and now she’s playing Lady Savage next week.
“We’re due to get married next year. We got engaged over lockdown, and we’ll be getting married on Kirkgate at York Castle Museum, where, as it happens, we did the photocall for Jekyll & Hyde.”
Anthony’s bride-to-be is Elizabeth Vile. “No, she will not be keeping her maiden name! I had always thought I would go double-barrelled when marrying, but ‘Vile Gardner’ doesn’t quite work, does it?!”
Should you be seeking further reasons to be “immersed in the myth and mystery of 19th century London’s fog-bound streets” in Jekyll & Hyde, here are two more from director Matthew.
“Because of Covid, York Musical Theatre Company haven’t had a full-scale production for two years since Jesus Christ Superstar, just a couple of online concerts, so it’s great to be back,” he says.
“It’s also very interesting to have two performers playing Lucy – Nicola Holliday on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday evening; Claire Pulpher on Thursday and at the Saturday matinee – and seeing how they play her in their different ways.”
York Musical Theatre Company in Jekyll & Hyde The Musical, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, May 25 to 28, 7.30pm and 2.30pm Saturday matinee. Box office: 01904 501935 or at josephrowntreetheatre.co.uk.
Copyright of The Press, York