'Jekyll and Hyde' kicks off Players' 60th season

Contact Reporterhbridges@vagazette.com

The beauty of art often lies in its ability to both prompt questions, and answer them.

Five years ago, Jonathan McCormick took on the lead role in a "Jekyll and Hyde" production in Virginia Beach. As he immersed in the character, McCormick began to wonder: What if Mr. Hyde, Dr. Jekyll's sinister alternate personality, was a drug-induced side effect? What if a struggle between good and evil that traditionally manifests physically only occurred within the confines of Jekyll's mind?

Those are the questions McCormick seeks to answer in directing the Williamsburg Players season-opening musical, running Sept. 15 to Oct. 1.

"It's all played more as being in his head, than (an) actual separate monster that comes out when he injects himself with the formula," McCormick said, in comparing his vision to what traditionally happens in the play, based on the story by Robert Louis Stevenson.

It's a subtle change, but one McCormick believes grounds a heightened show.

"It seems like every time that I see this show done, professionally especially, it just gets more and more supernatural," he said. "I think it's going the wrong way. I think that this show is much more interesting when it is more realistic."

To execute this vision, McCormick had to be creative. For example, in "Confrontation," Jekyll and Hyde's climactic stand-off, Hyde appears as a large shadow projected onto a scrim behind Jekyll.

The cast of 24 has embraced McCormick's ideas.

"I think it makes what's happening in the show feel more real and more possible. That something like this could really occur," said Laurel Christensen, who plays Jekyll's fiancé Emma.

"In that way, I think it can cause us to look at ourselves even a little more," she said. "This battle that's going on in his mind, I think we can relate to similar battles we have with our own good and evil side."

Geoffrey Klein, who plays the lead, believes the integrity of the show remains. The struggle, the switch from Jekyll to Hyde, simply occurs internally.

"I actually think it might frighten the audience a little bit," Klein said. "But it'll get them to think, I think, about what drives a good person over the edge."

Rest assured, the production won't frighten past the point of enjoyment. And what draws many to the production is, of course, the music.

"You think back to the late '80s and early '90s Broadway – this is the music you hear. The Les Mis, the Phantom of the Opera," Klein said. "That big, lush, huge sound."

Celebrating 60 years

The cast of "Jekyll and Hyde" comes from around the Peninsula, as is often the case in Williamsburg Players productions.

An all-volunteer organization, those involved put in nights and weekends. The reasoning is simple.

"People are there because they love it," said board president Michael Westenberger. "Because it's something that they have a passion for."

That's something Bob and Debbie Noonan have seen in their 31 years involved with Williamsburg Players — only half the history of a theater founded in 1957.

"There's a love of the organization that is exuded by the people that work there," Debbie Noonan said. "You want to see it succeed, and you'll do anything in your power to make sure that happens."

Prior to joining the Players in 1985, she had never acted before.

"I just got an itch one day, and told Bob I was going to audition for a play," she said. "I got a part, and never looked back."

Over the years, Debbie has filled just about every role, from acting to serving on the board. Bob Noonan largely spent time on the technical side, operating lights and sound.

They remember a time when the Players performed on a 20-by-40-foot stage, without no curtain separating performers from 120 poorly configured seats, according to Debbie Noonan.

The organization has come far, propelled by the passion of those involved.

Debbie Noonan recalled the time when a set needed to look like a classic diner with checkerboard flooring. She stayed up until 4 a.m., painting the checkers on that floor.

She didn't think twice. That's just what you do, she said.

"You do this for the love of the theater, to make it just right," she said. "You just do it, and that's the way the whole organization is."

Sixty years is a long time for any organization. Perhaps even more so for a community theater. Westenberger said it's always sad to see news of a local theater or venue closing its doors.

"We're just fortunate that we're in a community that continues to support the arts," he said.

The Players' 60th season continues with "The Best Man," "Six Degrees of Separation," "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" and "On Golden Pond."

Performances occur in James-York Playhouse on Hubbard Lane, a location the Players first obtained in 1976. Before that, Debbie Noonan said, the organization performed everywhere from hotel basements to a car dealership showroom.

The current 300-seat auditorium didn't look as it does today until a renovation in 2011.

"I kind of equate it to a toddler," Westenberger said. "The theater itself is still sort of learning what it can do, and what it can't do."

So despite the Players' 60-year presence in the community, Westenberger said, the performance space is relatively new, the utilization of that space still evolving.

"That's exciting for us," he said.

For McCormick at least, local theater offers the ideal space for taking chances.

"If you're going to tackle a show in this intimate of a space, I think you should do something interesting with it," he said.

Bridges can be reached by phone at 757-345-2342.

60th Season Kickoff, Sept. 15

6-7 p.m. – Art in the Lobby reception

7:15 p.m. – Anniversary Cake served (show ticket required)

8 p.m. – Ribbon Cutting (show ticket required)

8:10 p.m. – "Jekyll and Hyde" begins

Where: James-York Playhouse, 200 Hubbard Lane

"Jekyll and Hyde" continues 8 p.m., Thursdays-Saturdays and 2 p.m., Saturdays; Sept. 15-Oct. 1.

Tickets: $20/adults, $12/students and children, available at 757-229-0431 or williamsburgplayers.org.

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