We all know about Trekkies, those rabid fans of “Star Trek.” But have you heard about the Jekkies?
That’s what the rabid fans of Frank Wildhorn’s chiller-thriller musical, “Jekyll and Hyde,” call themselves—and Broadway’s Bart Shatto is one of them. Shatto is starring in Surflight Theatre’s production, one of the capstones of the company’s 65th season (“Broadway on the Beach Since 1950”), running through July 6 in Beach Haven, Long Beach Island.
A veteran of “Les Misérables,” “Dracula” and “The Civil War,” Shatto is champing at the bit to take the stage as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the hero and the villain of the “dark, sexy, gothic show” (Broadway.com), based on Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic novella. Although he’s too young to have one, Shatto says the dual role is on his “bucket list” and he’s just thrilled to have the chance to do it.
“It’s one of the most difficult roles known to mankind,” he jokes, “with 14 songs, not including the recitatives, and you’re onstage most of the show. It’s vocally demanding; it’s also mentally demanding, since you’re playing two characters.
“During a lunch I had with Frank (Wildhorn), he said to me, ‘You know, you’re playing three characters.’ This left me stumped until he explained, ‘You’re playing Jekyll and you’re playing Hyde, but you’re also playing Jekyll who’s aware of Hyde. You also have to put on the façade of a man who’s living with the knowledge of the brute inside of him, and concealing that knowledge from the other characters.’ So all the time you’re putting on and taking off masks in this role,” Shatto says.
The story is famous and easy to follow. Seeking a cure for insanity, the idealistic Dr. Jekyll compounds a formula to separate the good and the evil within a person, with unexpected results. When he tests it on himself, an evil alter ego, Mr. Hyde, emerges. The two engage in a life-or-death struggle for control throughout this Victorian-era tale of split personality. There are love interests, of course – Emma, Jekyll’s fiancée, and Lucy, a good-hearted lady of the night. There’s a loyal sidekick, Utterson. And there’s lots and lots of gore.
Although Shatto says he thinks of “Jekyll and Hyde” “almost as an operetta” because of its unrelenting vocal demands, the show cuts its own profile. Wildhorn’s widely praised score is totally pop-rock, with a heavy emphasis on power ballads. The best known number is “This is the Moment,” which has been covered hundreds of times and been featured at the Olympic Games and a presidential inauguration. Other top numbers are “Someone Like You” and “In His Eyes.”
“Frank told me he wrote this role for an athlete,” Shatto says. “You need to be a vocal athlete to handle this role, and you have to train for it like you’d train to run a marathon. One song I’d vowed to do, and which does not show up in every production of this show, is ‘Reflections,’ a Jekyll monologue that shows that Jekyll and Hyde share each other’s memories. I think people sometimes don’t get this, and it’s important they do. I got Frank’s blessing to sing it.”
One would think Shatto doesn’t have all that much to worry about. His vocal gifts are consistently remarked upon. For instance, The Times-Picayune (New Orleans), reviewing “Lawrence,” noted: “An epic musical demands an epic lead. In Bart Shatto, the show has a bright and compelling star. Vocally, Shatto has one of those knockout tenor voices that can reach the back of the house with a ringing clarity and powerful resonance.”
Also, in addition to his stage and screen work, Shatto is a veteran of that marvelous prog-rock outfit known as the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, which is Paul O’Neill’s brainstorm. This rock band for grownups with sophisticated tastes records frequently, tours, wins awards, and does everything, including poetry and artwork. Shatto will be hooking up with them for their winter tour.
“Jekyll and Hyde” is a technically demanding show – I mean, the sky’s the limit on stagecraft if you’ve got the right venue and a monster budget. Surflight does its best within its resources. It’s smaller in scale (one of its charms, actually), and they’re not likely to be staging superhero battles over the audience’s head anytime soon.
Stage director Norb Joerder is promising the best special effects Surflight can manage, but says he’s far more interested in “going back to the concept of the original Broadway production, back to the book, telling the story, focusing on the characters and their relationships. (Robert Cuccioli, Broadway’s original Jekyll) is a dear friend of mine, so I’ve followed this show from the very beginning. As the productions get bigger and bigger, I think you risk losing the humanity. And I have to say I would not have done this show without Bart, who’s incredible as an actor and a singer.”
Surflight’s production features Lianne Marie Dobbs as Lucy, Whitney Winfield as Emma Carew, Charles West as John Utterson, Tom Treadwell as Sir Danvers Carew, Amanda Fannon, Tom DeMichele ), Jacob January, Morgan McCann, Brian Martin, Amelia Millar, Ryan PJ Mulholland, Tom Orr, Grant Snuffer, Kelly Swint, and Janet Wiggins.
The production features scenic design by Steven Lee Burright and Gateway Playhouse, costume design by Stacey Jeungling, lighting design by Benjamin Weill, and sound design by Mark Keeler.
Also, in passing, let it be noted that a movie version of “Jekyll and Hyde” has been in the works for some time now. The New York Times reported in January 2013 that film producer Mike Medavoy (“Black Swan”) and Rick Nicita of RP Media teamed up to buy the film rights. Book writer Leslie Bricusse and Frank Wildhorn are expected to play an important role in the casting of the film.
Coming up this summer at Broadway on the Beach are “Fiddler on the Roof,” July 9-27; “Monty Python’s Spamalot,” July 30-Aug. 24, and “A Chorus Line,” Aug. 27-Sept 14. Surflight also presents a Comedy & Concerts Series. Take a look at the lineup. I hate to play favorites, but I’ve just got to recommend John Pizzarelli & His Quartet, featuring Jessica Molaskey, two shows on July 21.
For tickets and a complete Surflight calendar, visit www.surflight.org or call 609-492-9477. For some background on “Jekyll and Hyde,” visit www.mtishows.com/show_detail.asp?showid=000181. For more about Bart Shatto, visit www.bartshatto.com.