Popular road show captures cultural quandaries in tangle of good and evil
Story by Sara Freeman, PhD
Photography by Nick Tremmel
Robert Louis Stevenson published The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in 1886. A hundred years later, Frank Wildhorn, Steve Cuden, and Leslie Bricusse turned it into a stage musical that gained steam as it moved from the Alley Theatre in Texas to Broadway in the late 1990s. After several revivals and national and international tours, the show is more popular than when it first opened on Broadway and the tour that comes to Longview’s Columbia Theatre on January 23 is propelled by a pop score, bold stage design, and high emotion.
Adaptations usually reflect the concerns of the moment they’re created, even more than the context of the source material. But in the case of Jekyll and Hyde, Stevenson’s gothic novella spoke to emerging modern anxiety about identity, genetics, insanity, and sexual deviancy in a way that fit late Victorian England, yet has never stopped compelling contemporary audiences who continue to fret about psychological, social, and libidinal normalcy through every wave of insight from Freud to Masters and Johnson to the Prozac revolution.
At Tacoma Little Theatre in 2012, I saw a non-musical adaptation of Jekyll and Hyde by contemporary playwright Jeffrey Hatcher. It quickly got at the way the story of Dr. Jekyll’s experiment on himself (that produces the monstrous Mr. Hyde) depicts our universal concerns about our “true selves” and our complicated desires.
In that production, “Mr. Hyde” was played by four actors (two men and two women). All four were always onstage as Mr. Hyde.
Sometimes the four acted in unison, sometimes one Hyde took the lead, but all were clearly part of Dr. Jekyll and Dr. Jekyll definitely contained some of all of us. On stage today, I think the story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde has replaced the story of Dr. Faustus as the one that best captures our culture’s quandaries about insanity, science, human ingenuity, and the tangle of good and evil.
If You Go
Jekyll & Hyde
Friday, Jan. 23, 7:30pm
Columbia Theatre for the Performing Arts
1231 Vandercook Way, Longview
Online www.columbiatheatre.com or Box Office, 360-575-8499, open Monday-Friday, 11:30am to 5:30 pm. The kiosk is open two hours before each performance for Will Call pick-up and ticket purchases.
The musical’s book and lyrics take good and evil as the basic framework of ideas, echoing Faustus, but the show’s staging and costume design are all about sex and the contrasts of poverty and wealth.
Dr. Jekyll begins the play visiting his father in an insane asylum. His path takes him between a swanky engagement party for him and Emma Carew and the brothel in a red light district, where his bachelor party takes place and where he becomes enchanted by a prostitute with a heart of gold.
In the second act, Mr. Hyde tears between these two worlds, as well.
The score soars through a lot of power ballads; written in the wake of the success of Phantom of the Opera and Les Miserables, this is a musical where the songs are pure conduits of emotion, especially Dr. Jekyll’s song “This is the Moment” when he carries out his great experiment and turns into Mr. Hyde.
This current production of the musical amps up the rock and roll feel of the show, with cool fog effects and lighting. This follows a 2013 Broadway revival that starred Constantine Maroulis, a singer known for his edgy persona on American Idol and for starring in the Broadway premiere of Rock of Ages. The tour now stars Aleks Knezevich, a performer attending medical school who took time off when he had the opportunity to play the famous fictional doctor and his terrible alter ego.
I teach at a university where the president is a scholar of English literature who not only specializes in Victorian novels, but who has also written extensively about The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. I owe President Thomas for my sense of how the doubleness of the characters and the tricks of narration make the story such acute social commentary. What I know about stage adaptation is that it makes currents in language and imagery more present and heightens thrills in the plot. Stevenson’s book rewards this theatrical attention. The intertwined self of Jekyll and Hyde and the double truths of the two women he loves hold the stage. When we attend to what they represent, it pushes our hearts and minds.
SARA FREEMAN GREW UP IN LONGVIEW, ATTENDING RA LONG HIGH SCHOOL WHERE SHE FELL IN LOVE WITH THEATRE UNDER THE GUIDANCE OF THE LATE DANA BROWN. SHE EARNED HER BACHELOR’S DEGREE FROM UNIVERSITY OF PUGET SOUND AND HER MASTER’S AND DOCTORATE FROM UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN , MADISON. SHE IS ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR OF THEATRE AT UNIVERSITY OF PUGET SOUND AND LIVES IN TACOMA WITH HER TWO DAUGHTERS AND HUSBAND WADE HICKS.