At one point, Dane Thibodeaux will yield the stage to Jekyll and Hyde, the two personalities in a battle to control a single body.
It happens during the song “Confrontation,” with Jekyll pleading from the right and Hyde retorting from the left.
The song alone would be enough to exhaust an actor, but Thibodeaux knew going into Ascension Community Theatre’s summer musical, “Jekyll and Hyde,” that the full production would be a challenge because the show isn’t simply a struggle between two beings in one man.
“It’s a statement on how we are all, in a sense, Jekyll and Hyde,” director Chris Adams says. “We all have a face that we put on for others, then we take off that mask when they’re not looking. The musical even opens with the song, ‘Facade,’ which talks about that.”
The opening number will usher “Jekyll and Hyde” onto the stage Thursday, June 18, at the Ascension Community Theatre’s home in the old Pasqua Theatre in Gonzales. And Thibodeaux is ready.
“When I auditioned for this musical, I was going for the jugular,” he says. “I knew it would be a challenge, and it has been. But it’s something I knew I wanted to do.”
It’s the first major role for Thibodeaux, a graduate of the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts.
“I’ve been in six or seven productions at Ascension, but this character is so extreme,” Thibodeaux says. “I most embody Jekyll, because he’s so easygoing. But Hyde is difficult. He messes with your head.”
Jekyll’s intentions were good when he mistakenly created Hyde.
The musical is based on Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1886 novella, “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” told from the perspective of London lawyer John Utterson.
“The musical is close to the novella in that it also tells the story through Utterson’s eyes,” Adams says. “He was Jekyll’s best friend, and he’s recalling what happened.”
The musical is set in late 19th century London, where Dr. Jekyll presents a research proposal to the board of governors at the insane asylum, St. Jude’s Hospital, where his father is a comatose mental patient.
Jekyll believes the evil in his father’s soul has caused this illness, and he’s developed a formula that would separate evil from good, thereby not only curing his father but also the other mental patients. All he needs is a guinea pig, the ideal specimen being his father.
But the board refuses, so Jekyll tests the formula on himself. Mr. Hyde is born.
“The musical has always been popular, though its writers said they didn’t have a chance to finish it,” Adams says, meaning they didn’t get a chance for tweaking and polishing. Frank Wildhorn wrote the music and Leslie Bricusse the book for this musical that premiered in Houston in 1990. Steve Cuden joined Wildhorn and Bricusse in writing the lyrics, which weren’t heard on Broadway until 1997.
“There was a revival on Broadway in 2013, which had a good run,” Adams says. “This show has always been popular, and it has a strong cult following. We’ve softened some of the places that the writers didn’t get a chance to go back and finish.”
Audiences likely won’t detect the writers’ perceived flaws, because they’re usually too wrapped up in the story, which is as much about love as it is madness. Jekyll is engaged to Emma, daughter of the wealthy Sir Danvers Carew.
“He puts his work first, and Emma is OK with that, because no matter what happens, they love each other,” says Jessica Watson, who plays Emma. “She’s a strong woman, and you can tell that some of her beliefs are based in a time when women were set up in arranged marriages. But she does love Jekyll.”
And there are times when only her touch can make Jekyll surface from a bout with Hyde.
This musical also marks Watson’s first leading role for Ascension Community Theatre.
“It’s a dark story and a dark role, but it’s something that I’ve always wanted to do,” she says.