One of the world’s most famous cases of split personality is dramatized in the musical “Jekyll & Hyde,” which opens Friday, Aug. 5 in a new Quad City Music Guild production.
The epic struggle between good and evil comes to life on stage at Prospect Park (1584 34th Ave., Moline), with an evocative tale of two men – one a doctor, passionate and romantic; the other a terrifying madman – and two women – one, beautiful and trusting; the other beautiful and trusting only herself, according to a synopsis. Both women are in love with the same man and both unaware of his dark secret.
A devoted man of science, Dr. Henry Jekyll is driven to find a chemical breakthrough that can solve some of mankind’s most challenging medical dilemmas. Rebuffed by the powers that be, he decides to make himself the subject of his own experimental treatments, accidentally unleashing his inner demons along with the man that the world would come to know as Mr. Hyde.
“This is definitely the most difficult role I’ve ever had — physical exhaustion, mental exhaustion,” QC actor Taylor Bley said this week of embodying the dual roles.
“Having to play two separate characters just takes up a lot of brain space in general,” he said. “If I’m doing it right, I am completely wiped by the end of the night. The actual range of the music is much higher than I have sung over the course of my life.”
“Energy wise, I’ve got to bring it every single night,” Bley said. “It is easily the most difficult, but also the most satisfying.”
The music is somewhat different between the two male roles, and his vocal speaking style is higher with Jekyll, versus the more threatening Hyde.
“Hyde’s stuff is more rhythmic, whereas Jekyll’s is more lyrical, and recitative built into it,” Bley said. “Musically, it’s two separate styles and then I have to carry two different vocal timbres, two different speech cadences.”
“The Hyde stuff is a little more where I actually speak,” he said of the deeper voice.
The 1990 musical is loosely based on the 1886 novella The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson. Originally conceived for the stage by Frank Wildhorn and Steve Cuden, it features music by Wildhorn, a book by Leslie Bricusse and lyrics by all of them. After a world premiere in Houston, Texas, the musical embarked on a national tour of the U.S. prior to its Broadway debut in 1997. It ran for 1,543 performances.
1st show back post-pandemic
Bley — who works as a producer for KWQC-TV — was cast as Neville Craven in Music Guild’s March 2020 production of “The Secret Garden,” which was canceled by COVID two weeks before opening. Before “Secret Garden,” Bley was in the ensemble in 2019’s “Beauty and the Beast” at Guild — which starred “Jekyll & Hyde” director Heather Herkelman and music director David Baxter in the title roles.
Megan Warren, who plays Jekyll’s fiancee Emma, has not been on the Guild stage since she was in the “It’s a Wonderful Life” adaptation “Miracle in Bedford Falls” for its holiday 2018 show. Warren co-starred then as Mary Bailey. “It’s good to be back,” she said this week.
Owner of Bettendorf-based Double Threat Studios, she noted the Music Guild evening rehearsal schedule doesn’t conflict with her students’ rehearsals.
“It works out for the summer because all our stuff is during the day. I rehearse with the kids during the day, and am here at night,” Warren said. “We switch to daytime stuff during the summer.”
She wanted to come back to Guild for “Jekyll & Hyde” because she said the music is “stunningly beautiful.”
“The stuff that Taylor sings, he’s killing it every night, plus what the two female leads sing, we just have some incredible vocal stuff to do,” Warren said, also crediting Ariela Policastro (who plays Lucy), who she called “amazing.”
Skeletons in the closet
The women in the story don’t know about each other. The Jekyll character has skeletons in his closet, before his Hyde side emerges, Bley said.
“He is overall a good person, but the reason why Hyde is there and Hyde begins to take over is because he does have that deep down in him,” he said. “There’s parts in the show where he gets mad. There’s parts where he starts to lose it.”
Many people have a public persona and a somewhat different personality in private, which may not be as attractive. That makes “Jekyll & Hyde” relatable, Bley said.
“That plays into the running theme of the show, which is the idea of a facade,” he said. “It’s the idea that we’re something down beneath and we try to portray something else up in front. I think that’s pretty relevant to what goes on today. I think of all the times I scroll on someone’s Instagram feed or Facebook feed and it looks like their life is so much better than yours, when their life is about the same as yours. It just looks much better.
“I think this sort of interpretation of the Jekyll & Hyde story is more relevant maybe now than it was when the show first came around,” Bley said, noting the many struggles of the past two and a half years.
Directing debut at Guild
Herkelman (who has also starred as “Mary Poppins” at Music Guild) is making her Guild debut in the director role, after directing some high school shows. She helmed Assumption’s “You Can’t Take It With You” last fall, and co-directed “Phantom of the Opera” and “Beauty and the Beast” at Davenport West.
“It’s fun to jump from actor to director,” she said, noting both she and Baxter (who are married) really love the story.
“He’s been obsessed with the show since he was a kid and I have loved it forever, too,” Herkelman said. “We just really wanted to work together and what better team than married people who are spending all this time together?”
They married in September 2021, after first meeting on “Beauty and the Beast” in summer 2019. Baxter is choir director at Pleasant Valley High School, and Herkelman works as an advocate for sex abuse victims at Family Resources.
She loves “Jekyll & Hyde” because she is drawn to dark shows. “I just really love the drama of it; I love the psychological aspect of the show. I love the fact that the lead gets to play two different characters. I kind of wish there was a show where a female lead had that sort of experience.”
Bley suggested they gender-swap “Jekyll & Hyde” at some point, as was done on Broadway with the lead of “Company.”
“And the music is just gorgeous,” Herkelman said of the Wildhorn score. “It’s exciting to take on, with the choreography aspect, the set, and the special effects and all. It’s very appealing.”
Warren said Emma is a very strong, supportive partner for Jekyll, as he is tormented by his transformation.
“You see her kind of decide, maybe this isn’t worth it,” she said. “There’s a lot of goodness and strength to her character, and she’s just a good person.”
Policastro’s poor character of Lucy has been through a rough time in her life, performing as a burlesque dancer for the Red Rat club, Herkelman said. “She’s also vulnerable in her own way, because she hasn’t experienced much; she doesn’t know who she is really. She does want love and she wants a better life, and Jekyll can kind of give her those things — someone to take care of her, things she hasn’t had.”
“Also someone who’s not acting like a jerk to her, for once,” Bley said.
“Then Hyde also encounters Lucy, and she doesn’t know they’re the same people,” Herkelman said. “It’s very interesting.”
She said it’s been great working with Bley on creating the contrasting characters,
“He’s just naturally talented, obviously singing and acting,” Herkelman said. “His Hyde, especially, is absolutely amazing. I think Jekyll is the most challenging for every single actor that plays the part, because he’s just a normal guy. And to make him dynamic, you know, it’s challenging. So I think we’ve worked on that quite a bit. Taylor’s been amazing to work with, like really great.
“Taking criticism, wanting to be better all the time, and growing and getting better each day,” she added.
Preferring directing over performing
Baxter and Herkelman considered trying out for roles in the show, but in the end wanted to have the artistic control, she said.
“Just kind of bring it to life the way that we see it,” Herkelman said. “We’re so happy with everyone in it. It’s all worked out well.”
“I love performing and I always miss it when I’m not, but there’s a lot of responsibility as a director,” she said. “There’s just a lot that comes up. It’s fun, though. This cast has been really easy to work with.”
Her last on-stage role was in 2021’s “Mamma Mia” (the ABBA jukebox musical), the sunny, fun romp that’s the tonal opposite of the dark, brooding, violent “Jekyll & Hyde.”
Herkelman credited her organized crew, including Kathryn Weber as both stage manager and assistant director. The crew includes set designer Luke Vermeire and costume designer Connie McGinn.
The cast includes Joel Kolander, Mark McGinn, Aaron Deneckre, Erin Platt and John Donald O’Shea.
“Jekyll & Hyde” will be performed Aug. 5-14, at 7:30 p.m. all dates except Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets are $16 for adults, $11 for children (12 and under), available by calling 309-762-6610 or by visiting the QCMG website.