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Theater Review: 'Jekyll & Hyde: The Musical' top-notch at Notre Dame

The central theme of "Jekyll & Hyde" is the battle between good and evil and the inner turmoil that can exist within one's self. It is a classic narrative that has been presented countless times in ancient and contemporary art and literature.

Notre Dame Summer Theatre's production of "Jekyll & Hyde: The Musical," continuing at 7:30 p.m. July 31 and Aug 1 and 2 p.m. Aug 2, Notre Dame High School, 3417 Church S., Bethlehem Township, brings to life this tragic yet romantic tale based on the 1886 novella by Robert Louis Stevenson.

The story in "Jekyll & Hyde: The Musical," with book and lyrics by Leslie Bricusse and music by Frank Wildhorn, begins in an insane asylum where Doctor Henry Jekyll (Rob Clausnitzer) visits his father, a patient at the asylum who is "Lost In The Darkness."

Jekyll is determined to isolate the evil that lurks within a person's soul, which he believes is the cause of his father's catatonic state as he sings "I Need To Know."

He proposes to conduct an experiment on a human subject, but "The Board of Governors," the Bishop of Basingstoke (Fred Broadbent), Lady Beaconsfield (Cindy Ernst), Lord Savage (Trevor Colahan), Simon Stride (Jim Loftus), Sir Archibald Proops (J. Logan Keenhold) and General Lord Glossop (Phil Markley), vote against the idea and, with the exception of Sir Danvers Carew (Ted Williams), mock Jekyll unmercifully.

The dejected Jekyll is consoled by his lawyer and loyal confidante Gabriel John Utterson (Rody Gilkeson, who directed the show). Utterson suggests he give up his plans for experimentation as without the hospital's backing it will be impossible to find a willing subject. Jekyll is determined to "Pursue The Truth" and decides to conduct the experiment on himself.

Clausnitzer is a commanding presence on stage, playing the kindly Jekyll and his awakened, malevolent alter ego, Edward Hyde. He is able to switch from one extreme to the other with relative ease, which is no small task indeed.

This is a production that relies heavily on music performances and no one disappoints. Clausnitzer is a powerhouse vocally and will leave you in goosebumps and chills as he performs several numbers, notably "Alive!" "This Is The Moment," and during the riveting "Confrontation" climactic scene where Jekyll battles Hyde to regain his soul.

Clever use of movement and lighting adds to the intensity of the confrontation scene. Meghan Kohler is credited with choreography and D.J. Seibert with lighting design, two of the elements vital to executing the Jekyll - Hyde battle scene.

Background music is prerecorded and sound levels and timing of the music are consistent with no noticeable technical glitches.

Sound design is by Chris Hilt and Blake Stevens. Music directors are Matthew Trovato and Elizabeth Marsh-Gilkeson, the latter also in charge of wigs and serving as costume coordinator.

The story of Jekyll and Hyde is one filled with paradoxes. There are class divisions between the upper crust and the lower class. There are sinners in the barrooms and back alleys. Emma Carew (Gwen Vigorito), Henry Jekyll's fiancé, is a romantic who projects an almost saintly quality.

Lucy Harris (Elizabeth Marsh-Gilkeson) is the proverbial prostitute with a heart of gold who falls for Henry Jekyll and is pursued by Edward Hyde. She dreams of a "New Life" away from the Red Rat bar where she works for the fittingly named Spider (Trevor Colahan).

Marsh-Gilkeson and Vigorito have powerful vocal moments throughout the show. Vigorito has an operatic range and Marsh-Gilkeson can hold her own on stage with the best of them. The duet they perform, "In His Eyes," is an especially moving piece that showcases both performers' strengths.

Other notable roles are head barmaid Nellie (Beth Clausnitzer) and Newsboy (Christian Clausnitzer, real-life son of Rob Clausnitzer and Beth Clausnitzer). Proof that talent is often genetic, Christian has a spotlight moment during the "Murder, Murder" sequence.

A small but pivotal role is that of Poole, Henry Jekyll's butler played to perfection by Lehigh Valley theater veteran Don Swan.

Another small but significant role is Bisset the apothecary (Erik Modig). Modig also appears as the Minister in the wedding scene.

Notre Dame High School is an ideal stage to perform a large-scale production such as "Jekyll & Hyde: The Musical." It features an expansive stage befitting this impressive tale.

By day, it serves as a gymnasium, which allows for flexible seating arrangements and its raised stage platform offers unobstructed sightlines and use of large set pieces and backgrounds.

"Jekyll & Hyde: The Musical" is a top-notch production, as directed by Rody Gilkeson, with a large, dedicated cast and crew. As told to this reviewer by an audience member after the curtain, "I don't have to go into New York City and spend $200 to see a Broadway show. I can stay right here at home and see something just as good." That's as glowing a review as any.

PRESS PHOTO BY DEB BOYLAN From left: Elizabeth Marsh-Gilkeson (Lucy Harris), Rob Clausnitzer (Dr. Henry Jekyll-Edward Hyde) and Gwen Vigarito (Emma Carew), Notre Dame Summer Theatre-Revelations Productions' 'Jekyll & Hyde: The Musical,' through Aug. 2, Notre Dame High School, Bethlehem Township