Cottage Grove Theatre overcomes obstacle to innovative casting of title roles in its production of “Jekyll & Hyde”

(UPDATE: Cottage Theatre executive director Susan Goes writes that at the last moment before the opening of “Jekyll & Hyde,” Music Theatre International changed its mind and agreed to allow the theater’s plan, to have the characters of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde portrayed by separate actors, proceed as director Mark VanBeever had envisioned for the local production of “Jekyll & Hyde.”

The Cottage Theatre appealed to the authors and rights-holders of the play after Music Theatre International sent a “cease and desist” notice just days before the Oct. 6 opening, saying having two actors play the title characters violated “the authors’ intent.”

“We are thrilled to be able to offer our audiences the version of the show that we’ve rehearsed since August rather than the ’emergency version’ we’d put in place these last few rehearsals,” Goes said.

Josh Carlton and Kory Weimer had spent many hours learning each others’ parts so that they could each play both the Jekyll and Hyde roles in case Music Theatre International did not relent, Goes said.

The play continues at the Cottage Theatre through Oct. 29.

In a scene from the production, above, actors left to right are Josh Carlton, Phil Dempsey, Spike Gildea and Phoebe Gildea. Photos by Emily Bly.)

By Randi Bjornstad

If Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde really were one person with split personalities, what would be the harm in having two actors portray the characters?

Nothing, as far as the producers of “Jekyll & Hyde” at the Cottage Grove Theatre were concerned, but their concept for the show, directed by Mark VanBeever and onstage from Oct. 6 through 29, has run into a snag with Music Theatre International in New York City, which controls the rights to the show.

“You may note some ambiguity in the (cast) listing about who is playing Jekyll and Hyde — and that’s because we don’t know yet!” Cottage Theatre executive director Susan Goes wrote in a recent email about the play.

Kory Weimer as Edward Hyde and Tracy Nygard as Lucy Harris in Cottage Theatre’s “Jekyll & Hyde”

“To make a long story short,” Goes said, VanBeever came up with the innovative  idea of having two actors play the opposing character(s), with one somewhere in the background onstage each time the other was playing the active part in the foreground.

The troupe has been rehearsing that concept for the past two months, but just a week before opening, Music Theatre International issued a “cease and desist” call, informing the Cottage Theatre that its concept did not match “the authors’ intent.”

“We have submitted a request for special permission for our production to go forward as planned, but we are still waiting to hear back,” Goes said.

Josh Carlton and Phoebe Gildea as Henry Jekyll and Emma Carew in Cottage Theatre’s “Jekyll & Hyde”

If they receive permission, Josh Carlton and Kory Weimer will portray separately the characters of Jekyll and Hyde. If not, the two actors will split the roles, with Carlton being both Jekyll and Hyde for half of the performances and Weimer for the rest.

“There is absolutely nothing in either our script or license agreement that specifies the ‘single actor playing Jekyll/Hyde’ rule, so we were completely stunned by the call,” Goes said.

In the meantime, of course, both Carlton and Weimer have “been cramming to learn the other’s lines, songs and blocking.”

Regardless of who plays what, the story line of the musical comes from Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1886 gothic novella, “Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” about a London lawyer who investigates the dealings between his old friend, a good doctor named Henry Jekyll, and an evil character named Edward Hyde.

Some consider it an examination of situational ethics, others a tale of the evil effects of drugs. Yet another theory is a case of multiple-personality disorder. In any case, in the tale, Jekyll uses a serum to turn himself periodically into Hyde, with eventual tragic and disastrous results.

The stage play was written by Steve Cuden and Frank Wildhorn, with the book and lyrics by Leslie Bricusse and music by Wildhorn.

In addition to Carlton and Weimer, the cast includes Phoebe Gildea, Tracy Nygard, Phil Dempsey, Spike Gildea, Jen Ferro, Dale Flynn, John Vaughan Lemhouse, Jennifer Mandeville-Schulz, Bil Morrill, Bob Ewing, Sophie Blades, Blake Nelson and Aislinn Mirsch.

Mirsch, Stefhani Anderson, Emily Bly and Amber Hagen perform as the Red Rat Dancers and also act in the ensemble with Matthew Arscott, Oshen Austin, Devin Bahr, Timothy Bouwhuis, George Butterick, Kira Carver, John Eckstine, Kate Fairbairn, Aislyn Morrill, Heidi Turnquist and Maia Wilhour.

The production crew is led by stage manager Bill Morill, set designer FeO2, costumer Rhonda Turnquist, lighting designer Amanda Ferguson, sound designers Mark VanBeever and Tim Singer and choreobgrapher Chris Carter.

Jekyll & Hyde

When: 8 p.m. on Oct. 6-7, 12-14, 19-21, 26-28; and 2:30 p.m. on Oct. 8, 15, 22 and 29

Where: Cottage Theatre, 700 Village Drive, Cottage Grove

Tickets: $25 for adults, $15 for youths 13-18 years (not recommended for younger children because of mature content), available at the box office, 541-942-8001, or online at cottagetheatre.org/

Randi Bjornstad

Has more than 30 years' journalism experience after a previous stint as a land-use planner. Got first rejection slip at age 11, but the editor wrote an encouraging note. Lives in Eugene, Ore., with husband-and-photographer Paul Carter, adorable dog Tallulah and quirky cats Pearl, Audrey, Garbo, Harry and Ozma.

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