Shawnee Little Theatre kicked off its’ 08-09 season on Friday with the musical tragedy, Jekyll & Hyde, a tour de force for beautiful voices.


Shawnee Little Theatre kicked off its’ 08-09 season on Friday with the musical tragedy, Jekyll & Hyde, a tour de force for beautiful voices.
This performance is set in 1880s London and brings to life the 1886 novella by Robert Louis Stevenson that has entranced readers for over one hundred years. Everyone loves the story of the kindly, refined Dr. Jekyll who turns into the coarse, raging animal — Mr. Hyde — by night.
Eric Hopkins has his greatest performance ever in the lead role. Playing both Jekyll and Hyde, he succeeds brilliantly in switching back and forth between two diametrically opposite parts. Along the way Eric has to sing no less than 20 songs in two different voices. He’ll wear you out just watching him. Eric’s good looks make him a believable Jekyll and his powerful gravelly voice helps him pull off the persona of Hyde.
Jekyll is engaged to be married to high society belle, Emma, played by Jennifer McQuade. It’s worth the price of admission just to hear Jennifer sing. You will swear she came in straight out of a Disney movie, like the lead role in Lion King or Beauty and the Beast. Jennifer has star quality, astonishing beauty, and a well trained soprano voice that leaves you dumbstruck.
The plot thickens when Dr. J goes out at night as monster Hyde and falls in love with a lady of the night, sweet Lucy from the Red Rat Pub. Lucy is played by Katie Overturf, OBU senior, who can belt out barroom romp and then bring you to tears with her sad, plaintive solos.
These three beautiful voices make this a musical tour de force for Shawnee theatre lovers.
We also are treated to the gorgeous tenor voice of barrister sidekick John (James Presgraves) making his SLT debut. Terry Hopkins adds warmth and wisdom as Danvers Carew, Emma’s dad.
The good Dr. Jekyll has only noble intentions when he sets out to separate good from evil by experimenting on mental patients at St. Jude’s Hospital. But when the Hospital Board members turn him down, he is forced to experiment on himself instead.
The seven board members are played by Eric Gay, Tyler Fitzgerald, Terry Hopkins, David Habberland, Charles Lee, Mary Weeks and Joe Freeman. They enrich the show from start to finish with eccentric memorable characters and welcome comic relief. Supporting cast members are Trevor Mastin, as The Spider, an evil pimp; and Joel Carmichael as a butler, bartender and lunatic.
The breadth and musical complexity of this script makes it a major undertaking for any Little Theatre. Compliments go to Director Loree Hopkins for steering the ship. She cranks up the audience to a pitch of emotional intensity. She gets you to genuinely care about the characters, and to feel the pain of Dr. J’s moral dilemma. He seems to realize what his evil twin, Mr. Hyde, is doing at night.
Loree’s right hand is Musical Director Sara Ledford, who navigates the massive book and lyrics with at least 40 songs. And wait, there’s more — the characters sing most of their spoken lines as well, just a hint of operatic style. Sara does an especially great job with high-energy chorus numbers like, “What’s Behind the Facade,” which contrast nicely with the dark and moody plot. Choreography is by Heather Acock.
Look for these colorful characters in the chorus: Blaine Warren, Kelsey Warren, Peggy Argo, Dee Dee Hall, Bryan Hopkins, Margaret Hopkins, Karla Kelly, Jo Lewis, Justin McAfee, Emily Parks, Travis Sherill, Jeanne Swinney, Ron Lewis, Eric Smith, Lynn Goodson, Pam Finley and Bob Ard.
Intricate, beautiful period costumes — some that remind you of Pride and Prejudice — enrich the visual appeal.
Some musical highlights:
“Take Me As I am” — a thrilling duet by Emma and Dr. J
“Nobody Knows Who I Am” — Lucy solo
“If Someone Like You Found Me” — Lucy solo
“We Mustn’t Be Afraid of Letting Go” — duet Emma and dad Danvers (Terry Hopkins)
“This is the Moment” Dr. Jekyll solo
“Still I Pray Everyday He May Find His Way” four solos sung simultaneously
“Once Upon a Dream” — showcases Emma’s electrifying classical voice
“In His Eyes” — duet by Emma and Lucy. This is transcendent. It stirs your soul to hear these counterpoint sopranos go at it.
“It’s a Dangerous Game” — Lucy and Hyde
Near the end, Eric Hopkins sings an amazing solo where his voice has to work as fast as a ventriloquist to jump back and forth between Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, two dueling personalities inside one tormented soul, each trying to take over.
The stage set crew deserves compliments for a massive revolving backdrop with Dr. J’s parlor on one side and his laboratory on the other. The lab is just beautiful and meticulously furnished with all the trinkets of a turn-of-the-century laboratory. It’s here that Dr. J injects himself with “formula HJ7” and heads out on murderous sprees. He does a fine job of thinning out the cast.
A special “hats off” to the Hopkins family of Shawnee who worked overtime to bring this sophisticated Broadway musical to life. They had 10 family members over three generations working on cast and crew.
Jekyll and Hyde is a tragedy in the grand sense of Romeo & Juliet, a thrilling musical journey you can take right in Shawnee, for less than the cost of a movie and popcorn. Don’t miss it! Shows start  tonight and continue through Saturday.
Call the box office at 275-2805 on play nights from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. for tickets or purchase them ahead of time online at www.shawneelittletheatre.com. Shows start 7:30 p.m.