How does a theater company take a famous novel, published in 1886, with the themes of how personalities can affect a human, and the interplay of good and evil, and make it relevant to 21st-century audiences? And better yet, make it into a musical?
After four years on Broadway and multiple worldwide tours, the production of Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Jekyll & Hyde” by Oscar- and Grammy-winner Leslie Bricusse and Tony- and Grammy-nominee Frank Wildhorn comes to Mount Baker Theatre on Saturday, Jan. 24.
Aleks Knezevich, who plays Jekyll and Hyde, has been with the tour since the first rehearsal on Sept. 9, 2014. He says the production’s unique approach tries to explore not only the duality of good and evil that lives in us all, but also the theme of mental illness.
“This particular story asks the question ‘To what lengths is an individual willing to go to get what he or she wants?’,” he says.
“This relates very much to our society today, from everyday business deals to personal relationships to terrorists across the world, as we have seen recently in Paris, taking lives to get what they want.” he says.
“Each person wants something. Each of us are driven by our needs, wants, desires, upbringings, and biology,” he says. “But, where does each person draw the line between good and evil? Where is that boundary of right and wrong? We make those choices every day, and a little bit of Hyde lives in all of us.”
“The question is, ‘How in control are we, and also, how far do we go to put on a good face in front of others?’”
Despite the darkness of the production, Knezevich says the cast has fun together on the road, all traveling on one bus, and they enjoy being in the production. They pass time on the bus with movies, video games, reading, and, mostly, sleeping, he says.
“We get to see some great cities and perform in some ‘unreal’ theaters,” he says.
In December, they performed in Waterbury, Conn., “where the theater was the most beautiful I had ever seen in my entire life. A $30-million-dollar restoration! Just unreal!” (Wait until they see Mount Baker Theatre!)
But, he says, life on the road feels pretty exhausting because they do a lot of one-nighters. Cast members wake up around 7 or 8 in the morning, then travel for six to seven hours. They check in to a hotel, get to the theater around 5:30 p.m., and perform.
Get back to the hotel and repeat.
“Not glamorous at all,” he jokes. “Most of the time we don’t have time to see the particular city in which we are staying, which is a bummer. But all that is trumped by the feeling we get by being on the stage each night.”
And besides, he says, good-paying acting jobs are hard to find, so they’re thankful for their jobs.
He says audiences might be surprised at how young the cast members are, “but that works in our favor.”
“We have brought youth and vitality to this show, and the wall of energy and sound that hits the audience will have them enjoying the show,” he says.
Also, the make-up artists don’t “wig” his character, so his hair doesn’t change between Jekyll and Hyde, which might surprise to some longtime Jekyll and Hyde fans.
“I have to act my way through it,” he says, “and people have told us that they loved this approach.”
He says it’s a simple production, compared to some Broadway shows, one that leans on the actors and singers.
An interesting side note: Knezevich finished a year of medical school at the University of Iowa before signing on for the tour.
“I have lived this life of acting and science and medicine for about five or six years now,” he says. “So people like to compare that story to the duality of Jekyll and Hyde. It’s not every day someone takes year off of medical school to tour across the country. I am so grateful to all involved for helping me make it happen.”
Knezevich also wants the audience to know that, contrary to popular belief (see some reviews on Ticketmaster), the actors do not lip-sync.
“We sing every single note of every single show.”