How the Musical Jekyll & Hyde Went Steampunk

How the Musical Jekyll & Hyde Went Steampunk
Chris Bennion Photo

See also:

*New theater reviews, including our take on Jekyll & Hyde

*Photos of last year's Edwardian Ball

Jekyll & Hyde opened at Hollywood's Pantages Theater last week as part of a national tour preceding the musical's return to Broadway this April. Directed by Jeff Calhoun and starring Constantine Maroulis and Deborah Cox, this latest incarnation of Frank Wildhorn and Leslie Bricusse's musical comes with a new look, one that is as modern as it is vintage.

Indeed, this reinterpretation of the Robert Louis Stevenson tale bears some resemblance to what we've seen at major nightclub events in Los Angeles over the past few years. Like such gatherings as Edwardian Ball (coming up this weekend) and Labyrinth of Jareth, Jekyll & Hyde visually fuses together the late 19th and early 20th centuries with the present day. It's a stage filled with corsets that are more special-occasion goth than prim Victorian, and laboratory scenes trimmed with steampunk details.

How the Musical Jekyll & Hyde Went Steampunk
Chris Bennion Photo

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Jekyll & Hyde gets its visual appeal courtesy of Tobin Ost, scenic and costume designer, and Daniel Brodie, projection designer. Ost has worked with director Calhoun previously on Broadway projects like Newsies and Bonnie & Clyde. Brodie has worked on a number of theatrical productions, as well as with Kanye West and music festival Bonnaroo. Together they thrust the audience into a world of decaying urban facades and nefarious altar egos.

Ost says his research began with Victorian era. After all, Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was released in 1886 and set in London. "We only use that as a springboard," he clarifies. "Anybody who sees the show, who knows the period, will know that we're certainly pushing it into different areas and simplifying a lot of the look." He notes that where the Victorian period is often seen as "fussy and frilly," they wanted something "raw and animalistic."

On the costume front, he was influenced by a number of modern fashion designers, lending to costumes that are probably a bit more sultry than one might find in a proper period piece.

 

How the Musical Jekyll & Hyde Went Steampunk
Chris Bennion Photo

For the scenes, the team looked at the asylums of the Victorian age -- Ost says this was the inspiration for the titles used as wall surfaces -- as well as the city of London itself. The steampunk elements generally pop up inside Dr. Jekyll's laboratory filled with glowing potions. Here it makes sense to envision old fashioned fictional experiments through 21st century eyes.

Ost indicates that he was cautious in incorporating a steampunk aesthetic. "I want to make sure that it has a good reason for being there," he explains. "I didn't want to do it just as a cosmetic application.

"We didn't feel that it was a very soft production. There are certain hard edges to it," he adds. "We were trying to avoid using anything soft in the scenery. It's ceramic tiles, it's crumbling plaster, it's riveted steel. It's very appropriate to these steampunk notions."

How the Musical Jekyll & Hyde Went Steampunk
Chris Bennion Photo

Central to the stage is a set of walls that move as the scenes shift, as Ost descrides, "almost like a tumbling house of cards." The walls are also the basis for the projections created by Brodie and his team, which in turn, define the settings, from gritty street scenes to the seedy interior of a bordello. Brodie's goal was to mesh together design elements that were "vintage, old and dirty" with those that were "modern and futuristic." He cites influences like photographer Joel-Peter Witkin, whose images often have a decayed, vintage flair, and painters Francis Bacon and George Tooker.

"It's a little genre-mixing," he says.

How the Musical Jekyll & Hyde Went Steampunk
Chris Bennion Photo

On top of that, there were actual technical constraints, some of which stem from working on a touring show. For example, they crew can only bring one projector on the road. "One of the challenges is making sure that you can hit all of the surfaces and fill all of the stage with a single projector," he says.

In the end, Ost and Brodie helped create a fictional past with just enough grounding in real history to captivate the audience. It's really not that different from what steampunk authors and artists have been doing for the past couple decades.

See also:

*New theater reviews, including our take on Jekyll & Hyde

*Photos of last year's Edwardian Ball

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