On Friday, November 5, Pauper Players fall musical opened in Furman’s McCallister Auditorium. For their first full show of the year, the student-run theatre group chose Jekyll and Hyde by Frank Wildhorn, Leslie Bricusse, and Steve Cauden. A retelling of the 1886 novella Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson, the musical chronicles the experiments of Dr. Henry Jekyll, who inadvertently releases his monstrous alter ego Edward Hyde onto the streets of Victorian London while attempting to alter the human soul. Full of chilling confrontations and soul rending power-ballads, this work was placed into the masterful hands of director Carson Hardigree and musical director Nick Wilson, who helped lead a breathtaking cast in bringing this work to life.
The show opens with Jekyll’s lawyer John Utterson (Noah Nussbaum) recounting the tale to the audience. When we first meet Dr. Jekyll (Raleigh Cothran), he is despairing over the illness of his father who has recently been confined to a mental institution. In searching for a way to help his father and others like him, Dr. Jekyll has hypothesized that he can spilt a human personality between good and evil, thus retaining only the good. However, his ideas have been rejected by Board of Governors at the hospital — played with delightful snobbishness by Kaitlyn Applewhite, Margaret Bovard, Peter Paluszak, Ethan Durham, Ben King, Preston Tadlock and Andrew Cooter — who refused to approve the testing of his formula on human subjects. Still seeking to pursue his research, Dr. Jekyll then takes the formula himself, and transforms into the evil Mr. Hyde. As Hyde terrorizes the city, and eventually murders each member of the Board of Governors, he becomes fixated on a prostitute named Lucy Harris (Wallis Lucas), who has simultaneously fallen in love with Dr. Jekyll, not knowing that they are the same man. Jekyll’s life becomes consumed with his experiments despite the attempts of his fiancée Emma (Helena Sherman) and Utterson to help him. As Jekyll continually loses control of the transformations, audiences witness Hyde kill Lucy. Realizing that he must he stopped when Hyde takes over at his wedding, Jekyll begs Utterson to shoot him and dies in Emma’s arms.
Raleigh Cothran played a thrilling and dynamic Jekyll/Hyde, as his vibrant voice communicated a range of emotions that brought both characters to life. His Jekyll was equal parts drive and tenderness — Jekyll’s longing solos like “I Need to Know” and “This is the Moment” truly captured these dichotomies. As Hyde, his determination turned terrifying, as Cothran added an edge and harshness to his previously tender voice. The song “Alive” was especially thrilling as he relishes in the carnage his new identity can create. Cothran brought a particular mastery to the role in how quickly he was able to switch between the two personas in “Confrontation,” literally changing characters from beat to beat as Jekyll and Hyde struggled for control. He was equally versatile in playing off the female leads, touching the audience with Jekyll’s love for Emma while chilling them with Hyde’s abuse of Lucy.
This reviewer has run out of synonyms for wonderful when it comes to Lucas’ presence on the stage. She played Lucy as if she were born for the role. In the bawdy group number “Bring on the Men,” she was enchanting and hilarious, fully transporting the audience into the setting. Each of her ballads was more heartbreaking than the last, adding layers to the character’s longing until her tragic death. Lucas’ portrayal really embodied Lucy’s strength and independence. Neither her affection for Jekyll in “Someone Like You” and “In His Eyes,” nor her fear of Hyde in “It’s a Dangerous Game,” came close to the emotional intensity of “A New Life,” when Jekyll gives her the means to leave London and get a fresh start. Lucas even brought chilling poignancy to Lucy’s death scene, as she crawled away from Hyde still seemingly reaching for this new life.
Sherman could not have been more perfect for the role of Emma. Her commanding yet gentle voice captured the duality of kindness and willfulness in her character. While it is easy to write Emma off as Jekyll’s angelic love interest, Sherman portrayed a determination in her concern for him that went beyond empty romance and conveyed the innate goodness of her character. This came through especially in “Once Upon a Dream,” as she reflected on how her relationship with Jekyll has changed. My favorite moments of Sherman’s were when she stood up to the disapproval of her upper-class contemporaries, showing biting wit behind her sweet exterior.
The Board of Governors and ensemble (Laura Oxford, Lexi Stone, Regan Kennedy, Sophia Anthony, Olivia Morett, Kaliana Reifsynder, Leila Tajana) were delightful and engaging, especially in “Bring on the Men,” masterfully choreographed by Lexi Stone, and the complex chorus “Murder, Murder.” The interactions between the ensemble members felt authentic and natural. Nussbaum, Ben King (Sir Danvers Carew), and Andrew Cooter (Simon Stride) were particularly skillful in bringing their respective characters to life.
Under the direction of Nick Wilson, the orchestra beautifully interpreted Wildhorn’s score, with a special addition from collaborative pianist John Bayne, who improvised the music for Jekyll and Emma’s wedding by placing Hyde’s foreboding theme in an upbeat major key. Another interesting feature of the show was the lightening design by Dennis Cheeks, which featured a backdrop that changed colors according to character and mood, often adopting glaring red for Jeykll. Hargidree’s direction of the cast successfully brought the audience into the world of the show. Her creative skills resulted in a visually and dramatically stunning production. There are so many more good things I could say about this production, but I would exceed my word limit even further than I already have. In short, this show displayed the spectacular range of talent and passion that goes into each Pauper Players production. I, for one, cannot wait until the next performance.