Weekender

Good and evil take the stage in State College Community Theatre’s ‘Jekyll & Hyde’

From left: Eric McGinnis, Amelia McGinnis, Steve Travis and Lauren Ritter star in “Jekyll & Hyde.”
From left: Eric McGinnis, Amelia McGinnis, Steve Travis and Lauren Ritter star in “Jekyll & Hyde.” Photo provided

State College Community Theatre will conclude its 60th anniversary season by presenting the dark pop-rock musical “Jekyll & Hyde.”

Based on the thriller novella by Robert Louis Stevenson, “Jekyll & Hyde” is the gripping tale of a brilliant mind gone horrifically awry. Stevenson’s characters come to life in this chilling and mesmerizing production. The musical adaptation premiered on Broadway in 1997, running for more than 1,500 performances and earning four Tony Award nominations. Popular songs from the musical include “This Is the Moment,” “Alive,” “In His Eyes” and “Once Upon a Dream.”

The cast includes a mix of SCCT veterans, community members and Penn State students. “Jekyll & Hyde” is directed by Seth Sponhouse, with music directed by Matt Shaffer and choreography by Kat Shondeck.

The focal points of the show are devoted scientist Dr. Henry Jekyll and his “alter-ego” Edward Hyde. Jekyll is courteous, proper, polite, pensive and intelligent, and is as close to the embodiment of a “good person” as the audience meets. As a doctor, his main mission is to figure out a way to separate good and evil from man so that he can isolate and ultimately eliminate that which makes man evil. When his superiors decline his request, he decides to experiment on himself and brings about the creation of Edward Hyde in the process.

“Hyde is the embodiment of all of Jekyll’s inner ‘evil’ — he is lustful, impulsive, vengeful, cruel and demonic,” said Steve Travis, who plays Jekyll and Hyde. “Over the course of the show, Jekyll realizes that he cannot control or contain Hyde and it develops into this battle for longevity.”

Raised in the Philadelphia area, Travis graduated from Penn State with a bachelor’s degree in meteorology in 2010. Currently, he works full-time as a broadcast meteorologist at AccuWeather. Travis has no formal voice or acting training, but he has always learned and grown by just doing.

“I’ve been acting on and off since I was about 10 years old and have always received a huge rush from just being on stage and pulling written words out of a book and creating something vivid with it,” he said. “It’s just always appealed to me.”

Lucy Harris, played by Taylor Granger, is a prostitute at the Red Rat who longs for a better life. When she meets Jekyll she senses she may have found someone she can trust — someone she can maybe even grow to love.

“As their relationship blooms, however, she also encounters Edward Hyde, who becomes obsessed with her, and they engage in a passionate and violent affair,” Granger said.

Originally from Berks County, Granger began acting at the age of 6. She majored in theater performance at Lycoming College and was awarded the Excellence in Theatre Award upon her graduation in May. This summer, Granger worked as the box office manager for Nittany Theatre at The Barn. She is currently working in the box office for the Center for Performing Arts at Penn State.

“The main theme of the show is the struggle between good and evil,” Granger said. “We all have two sides to us, and things are not always as they seem.”

Before they even began rehearsals, the director and main cast discussed the nature of good and evil and how that interplay related to their characters and furthered the plot.

“Much of the story is told through the music and movement, and we learn a lot about the characters from their songs,” Granger said. “We’re now focusing on running the show, deepening the relationships between all the characters and fleshing out the emotional and psychological journey they all go through together.”

The process for Travis in this production is different than most others because he has to almost prepare separately for two separate characters.

“Jekyll and Hyde are played by the same actor but could not be more different in terms of their mannerisms, stature and attitude,” he said. “So I spent a lot of time working on making them both markedly different from one another.”

“Jekyll & Hyde” may seem a bit darker than the type of shows State College Community Theatre usually selects and performs, as they tend to stray more towards the family-friendly breed of musicals. But for Travis and the cast, it is an opportunity to see what they can do with material that is more macabre.

“It also opens up more of the adult/college community to the work, which I feel will really open the eyes of the community to the talent that exists in the State College area,” Travis said. “I love the challenge that the characters present and the beauty of the music. Because it takes place in Victorian England, the costume pieces are also remarkable and it’s another area in which SCCT really gets to dig into creatively.”

With Halloween just around the corner, the timing of “Jekyll & Hyde” couldn’t be more perfect, as State College Community Theatre brings the community something to genuinely thrill them.

“It’s a very dark show, with frightening and violent moments, but it also has that undercurrent of wicked fun that makes this time of year so exciting,” Granger said. “It should give everyone something to talk about afterward and stir the audiences’ collective imagination.”

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