People know when attending a Pittsburgh Musical Theater’s Richard E. Rauh Conservatory Company (RERC) show that the production features all youths, rather than a Broadway cast of professional actors.
But if audience members didn’t know that going in to Jekyll & Hyde: The Musical, which played Oct. 20 to 23 at the Byham Theater, chances are, they might not have noticed. Except for the young age of the mostly teenage cast, the production seemed very professional and not amateurish as one might expect with a student production. The only time the age factor showed was when characters portrayed a father and daughter, yet looked to be the same young age.
The two-act play – based on the Victorian-era book, “Strange Case of Dr, Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” by author Robert Louis Stevenson – brought to life the London-set creepy story with perfect timing for Halloween, punctuated by lively and often intense music. It takes a special acting talent for the same person to portray such a split personality – the polite and nice scientist Dr. Henry Jekyll, and the evil and violent alter ego known as Mr. Hyde. Talented teen actor Nick Cortazzo fulfills this challenge with passion and finesse, along with a powerful singing voice. He wears a ponytail when in Jekyll mode, and lets down his hair when switching to Hyde mode. The intensity of the Hyde character brought a spine-tingling element to the story, in which characters spoke in decent British accents.
Complementing Cortazzo was Elena Doyno as Jekyll’s fiance, Emma Carew. She and her partner awed the audience during the tragic climax at the end of the play, when Jekyll turns into Hyde during their wedding and falls dead, with Emma crying over his body.
The stage scenery was simple but fitting and evolving, with a beaker-filled mad scientist’s lab, flanked by two staircases, serving as a frequent centerpiece. This is where Jekyll conducted his ultimately ill-advised experiment seeking to prove that in every man dwells both a good and evil force. The Jekyll and Hyde story is perhaps the most poignant example in literary history about the dangers of flirting too much with evil.
These few dozen students in the cast – including Sabina May, who does a fine job playing the supporting prostitute character Lucy Harris – are theater students at Pittsburgh Musical Theater’s Richard E. Rauh Conservatory in the West End. They all show great talent and potential.
We would be remiss not to mention the unseen members of the cast: the musicians in the orchestra pit come from Pittsburgh CAPA 6-12, the city school district’s arts-magnet school. A total of 133 students, according to the program, participated in Jekyll & Hyde.
This show, which kicks off PMT’s four-show 2016-2017 season, should give PMT a good celebration for its 25th anniversary this year. The next shows playing at the Byham are: The Hunchback of Notre Dame, (Jan. 26-Feb. 5); Dreamgirls (March 9-19); and Tarzan (May 4-14.)
Special thanks to Pittsburgh Musical Theater for complimentary press tickets. For more information about PMT’s upcoming season, click here.