I admit it’s something of a cliché to say that This is the Moment – but that really is how it feels for the many Australian musical theatre fans who have waited 25 years to see Anthony Warlow play the dual title roles in the musical Jekyll & Hyde live on stage, after his peerless, electrifying performance on the 1994 2CD concept album.
In fact, as the crowd entered the auditorium for the first of two Melbourne performances, to be followed by one in Sydney, a man behind me was excitedly singing the show’s most famous song This is the Moment.
Anthony Warlow and Jemma Rix. Photograph © Phoebe Warlow Photography
And it was a momentous night, at the end of which everyone in Hamer Hall leapt to their feet for a rousing standing ovation. Some of the soaring, demanding, climactic notes in two of the big songs that Warlow sings may not have landed as they should, which was a shame, but a quarter of a century on, he is still singing with beauty and theatrical insight, differentiating the two roles exceptionally well.
The gothic musical thriller by Frank Wildhorn (music) and Leslie Bricusse (book and lyrics) is loosely based on Robert Louis Stevenson’s novella Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, and tells the macabre tale of brilliant young doctor and research scientist Henry Jekyll who is fascinated by the dual nature of man and wants to conduct experiments to see if he can separate the good and the evil, and potentially rid the world of the latter. When the Board of Governors of the London hospital rejects his request to experiment on a human being, he takes the formula himself, releasing his evil doppelgänger Edward Hyde, who gradually takes over his life.
The show premiered in Houston, Texas in 1990, then toured the US. Though Warlow gave a stupendous performance on the 1994 concept album, which is called Jekyll & Hyde, The Complete Work (and which featured far more songs than could end up on stage), he resisted offers to perform the show live and so Robert Cuccioli starred when the show made its Broadway debut in 1997.
Anthony Warlow and Amanda Lea LaVergne. Photograph © Phoebe Warlow Photography
Wildhorn’s sweeping, pop-opera score with its power ballads, duets and ensemble numbers, marked by key changes and big finishes, unashamedly pushes overt emotional buttons for melodramatic effect, while Bricusse’s lyrics move from smart to decidedly workmanlike with all-too-obvious rhymes. The reviews were decidedly mixed, but the Broadway production ran for almost four years.
There have been various iterations of the musical over the years, including a 2013 Broadway revival. An Australian production scheduled for 1997 didn’t eventuate. In 2015, Opera Australia and John Frost announced they were co-producing a “re-imagined” version after a workshop in New York featuring Warlow – who reveals in the program for this concert that he was offered the role by OA but declined, not wanting to perform the show eight times a week. Teddy Tahu Rhodes was cast instead, with Jemma Rix as the prostitute Lucy who becomes fatally entangled with Jekyll and Hyde, and Lucy Maunder as Jekyll’s fiancée Emma Carew (originally called Lucy Carew on the concept album). But the production was “postponed” and came to naught.
And so, finally, Concertworks (led by Paul Fanning) is producing the first professional Australian production – Jekyll & Hyde 25th Anniversary Concert, starring Warlow, Jemma Rix as Lucy, and American performer Amanda Lea LaVergne as Lisa. Drawing predominantly on the concept album, the show has been edited back to run a tight 140 minutes including interval.
Jemma Rix. Photograph © Phoebe Warlow Photography
Directed by Chris Parker, the concert is semi-staged, with highly effective costuming and a few simple set elements. The orchestra – consisting of members of Melbourne Symphony Orchestra with four guest players – conducted by Vanessa Scammell, sits centrestage. To the left is a chaise longue and a desk to indicate Jekyll’s surgery. There’s a long platform around the sides and the back of the stage, and steps down to the stage on the far right. Now and then the cast bring on chairs for certain scenes.
Parker uses the space cleverly to keep the action moving freely, with the focus on the songs. Victoria Horne has designed some elegant Victorian costumes, mostly in black, with the two women highlighted by their outfits – Lisa in a shiny steel grey gown, and later a white wedding dress, and Lucy with her vibrant red wig (designed by Trent Whitmore). Jasmine Rizk’s lighting design adds plenty of atmosphere, and is brilliantly used in the famous Confrontation number.
Anthony Warlow. Photograph © Phoebe Warlow Photography
Warlow does a superb job of delineating Jekyll and Hyde, changing his physicality and vocal tone as he moves between the brilliant, ambitious, decent Jekyll, and the violent, cruel, murderous Hyde (for whom he adds blue glasses and a cloak). Twenty-five years since recording the album, his singing is still very beautiful and expressive. His English accent and his diction are both impeccable, his acting is richly detailed, and the way he darkens the voice as Hyde is positively scary. As Hyde’s influence grows stronger, his voice sounds almost snake-like at times.
The only trouble he had on opening night were the blazing big notes and soaring money notes in Jekyll’s monumental song This is the Moment, and Hyde’s surging Alive at the end of Act I, when his voice sounded insecure. Other than that, he is stunning, nailing the Confrontation song in which he moves between uncanny representations of both Jekyll and Hyde as they face off against each other, helped by dazzling lighting (and some recording as the voices coalesce).
Jemma Rix is sublime as Lucy, finding all the bawdy sassiness for Bring on the Men, and the passion and emotion in No One Knows Who I Am, Someone Like Me, and the heartbreaking A New Life. With each song she owns the stage, taking you into Lucy’s mind, and she sings radiantly, her voice shining with creamy luscious tones.
Amanda Lea LaVergne captures the chaste innocence of Lisa, the society daughter of Sir Danvers Carew (though her American accent breaks through at times), and her duet with Rix – In His Eyes – is another musical highlight.
Peter Coleman-Wright and Amanda Lea LaVergne. Photograph © Phoebe Warlow Photography
Opera baritone Peter Coleman-Wright is exceptional as the patrician Sir Danvers, conveying just the right level of gravitas, authority and concern for his daughter – musical theatre should snap him up. Martin Crewes gives a warm, empathetic portrayal of Jekyll’s loyal, gentlemanly friend John Utterson, and the ensemble (Alex Rathgeber, Suzanne Johnston, John Wood, Stephen Mahy, Thern Reynolds, Annie Aitken, Anne-Marie Fanning and Georgia Wilkinson) provides sterling support. There is also fine work from the orchestra and conductor Vanessa Scammell.
You can safely say you are never going to see Warlow play the twin roles in a fully staged production, so fans should catch him in this concert version while they can.
Jekyll & Hyde 25th Anniversary Concert plays at Darling Harbour Theatre, ICC Sydney on November 2