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Musical is a thrilling triumph

Jekyll and Hyde, Rugby Theatre, October 21 to October 28. This rarely-seen musical is given new life by Mark Tolchard in a truly thrilling production of West End quality.

Rugby theatre regulars, augmented by the best of local musical theatre talent - including Paul Jackson, returning to the group after 25 years’ absence - are to be congratulated on the sustained level of their performances. The talent is not confined to those on stage. The technical crew, led by stage manager Ash Hirons, produce over 16 seamless scene changes. The basic set of a simple balcony, reached by a steep staircase with three gothic arches serving as entry points, is transformed via a rotating stage and altered with simple dressing. The overall drab colouring slashed with blood-red streaks allows large numbers of players to move and interact effortlessly without distraction. This minimalism also helps showcase wardrobe with an incredible number of wig and costume changes. Jenny Pulley has amassed a stunning range of authentic looking outfits, from suits and cloaks, to basques and dresses. The other stand-out factor among so many, is Jon Watson’s musical direction.

The live orchestra is unseen during the show and, incredibly, they play from the building opposite the theatre, their performance relayed by the theatre's new £70,000 sound system. The cast is miked up to produce crystal clear sound, balanced perfectly. This is so important when the lyrics drive the plot and clarity is essential. This brings me to the songs and their delivery. Like any musical there are a few fillers to keep things ticking over, but the big opening number Façade is fiercely delivered by the chorus with great attack. With 25-plus performers on stage, everyone is on point, with facial expressions absolutely in character and eye contact with audience from front to back. Performers young and old give this showstopper everything they’ve got. The story is faithfully followed: Jekyll’s battle of good over evil is conventionally told. Steve Bingham is an ideal lead, both in stature and voice. His range is superb and he holds the final note in all his big solos with confidence. His duets with the two female leads are equally assured. Claire Tyler as Emma his fiancé, and Gracey Spring as tart with a heart Lucy, are consummate performers and match Bingham note for note, Take Me As I Am being a notable high. The girls' own set pieces are delivered with equal passion and quality, and their duet In His Eyes is another stand-out among so many. The company has shown great bravery in tackling this show but they have delivered a fine piece, standing up against inevitable comparisons with the greats from London and Broadway, even more recently from Disney. The big scene in the Red Rat stays just the right side of early Meatloaf, despite Jekyll’s ponytail, and showcases Carrie Bianco’s excellent choreography, with Bring On The Men wickedly seductive. She has a great eye for detail, and in the second act opener she hides a small homage to Michael Jackson’s Thriller. The show is littered with big tunes, like This Is The Moment, Someone Like You, and the wonderful four-way counterpoint between Jekyll, Gabriel Utterson, played by Pete Herring, Danvers Carew, played by Paul Jackson and Claire Tyler’s Emma. These tunes bring the hairs up on one’s neck, song and performance combining to startle the emotion. One of the key scenes in any Jekyll and Hyde production is the transformation scene which here is both simple but effective, Steve Bingham’s aforementioned wig becoming a device to characterise his persona.

Later when he is schizophrenically battling his alter ego he manages to show both sides, quite literally, with chilling effect. The quality of the acting of the whole ensemble, in musical numbers and scripted passages drives the story on to its deadly crescendo. You need not visit Leicester Square, Piccadilly or Charing Cross for your big show fix, or even Birmingham. Rugby is the musical theatre capital this week and you will be surprised and thrilled to discover this gem and the team behind it. Another must see.

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