When Devon McNamara and Sarah Taft share the stage, both commanding attention in their own spotlights and relying on their voices alone, that's when Blue Water Theatre Company's Jekyll & Hyde wows.
Their duet "In His Eyes" is a surprising love song for two reasons. First, Blue Water consists of middle and high school actors, yet McNamara and Taft each possess vocal richness foreign to most secondary school theaters. Second, it's a simple moment in an otherwise dark musical full of extensively choreographed murder, promiscuity, and moral quandaries.
Based on the Robert Louis Stevenson novella, Jekyll & Hyde adds a love triangle, more killing, and singing to the story of a doctor who splits his personality between good (Henry Jekyll) and evil (Edward Hyde).
Being their first production at downtown Minneapolis's New Century Theatre, it would make sense for director and founder Charlie Leonard to play it safe. By picking this musical, he went all-in on (blood) red.
The gamble pays off in chorus numbers "Bring On the Men" and "Murder, Murder." Katie Fischer's choreography creates vibrant scenes that bring us into a brothel and the frantic streets of London, the large ensemble weaving deftly on the tight stage. This exuberance could also be attributed to the young cast, who seem to relish scandalous lines like, "When I invite the fellas over to dine, they all come early, in bed by nine."
Then there are the losing bets. C. Luke Soucy's thoughtfully nuanced performance as the titular characters was restricted by more than his opening night cold. A headband with red fabric strips serves as the symbol for Jekyll's transformation into Hyde. It's a prop that first appears when two people in red robes place it on Soucy's face. In "The Confrontation," the show's climactic song that finds Jekyll and Hyde switching back and forth at a rapid pace, this becomes a problem. Instead of leaving the apparatus on, four other actors in red robes slap the metal headband off and on throughout the song. Soucy's manic, spitfire rendition staves off this constant distraction, but it would have stolen the show had he been afforded the same chance McNamara and Taft received during "In His Eyes" -- a chance to have a spotlight to himself.
As a nonprofit, Blue Water states in their mission that they are dedicated to providing an inspiring community for young actors. Based on the unrestrained applause that swallowed the end of each song and the lobby congregation after curtain call, they appear to have established that community.
Now it's time for them to cut their teeth with a new audience. Using this demanding musical for their first downtown performance, they've declared this weekend as their moment. They're ready for you.
IF YOU GO:
Jekyll & Hyde
7 p.m. Friday and Saturday
2 p.m. Sunday
New Century Theatre
615 Hennepin Ave., Suite 145, Minneapolis
For tickets and more information, visit online.