Sunday, December 20, 2015

Jekyll & Jekyll – Interview with Doctors Jekyll and Misters Hyde

Huomio, suomalaiset lukijat: lue sama haastattelu suomeksi täällä!

In the current Finnish production of Jekyll & Hyde, two actors alternate in the titular roles. Henri Halkola and Joni Leponiemi treat audiences with two different interpretations of the musical’s main characters.

Where lies the difference in between Dr. Henry Jekyll and Mr. Edward Hyde? In this interview, the duo shares their thoughts on their roles.

Henri Halkola and Joni Leponiemi say that, even though they knew the basics of the classic story coming in, they weren’t familiar with the musical before Jyväskylän kaupunginteatteri’s production. Both fell in love with Frank Wildhorn’s music the first time they listened to it.

“The music enchanted me right away, and I think it’s the force that drives musical’s story forward. If you try to read Jekyll & Hyde the musical like you would read a straight play… Well, maybe musicals aren’t supposed to be read that way”, Halkola recalls his first impressions.

“The fans of this musical have a great taste in music, though”, he adds.

Leponiemi agrees.

“It was love from the first note. It’s also the first thing I considered when I thought about being cast in the role. Would I be able to sing these songs?”

The actors alternate in the leading roles, but in the rehearsals they worked together. Even so, their interpretations of Jekyll and Hyde are rather different.

“From the get-go, we decided that we’ll put our own spins to the characters. When rehearsing a role like this, you’ll have to keep an open mind and support each other – and that’s what we did”, Leponiemi tells about sharing the role.

“Even though Joni’s interpretation of the role doesn’t affect mine directly, it’s got to have some effect. The rehearsal period was short. We didn’t have time to develop our characters without taking some influence from each other”, Halkola continues.

“I think it’s good that the director and the choreographer didn’t have a very strong vision of the character –for example, they didn’t make Hyde move in a certain way. We got to try out different solutions and to develop them with the ensemble. But even so, the rehearsal period was too short”, Leponiemi adds.

Not a fairytale anymore

The musical’s Dr. Jekyll is very different from his counterpart in Robert Louis Stevenson’s novella. In the book, Jekyll develops his soul-destroying formula for selfish reasons. In the musical, Dr. Jekyll wants to cure his mentally ill father. Jekyll comes up with a drug that he thinks will remove evil from the human nature.

Halkola and Leponiemi make a point that even with the addition of a mentally ill father, the musical’s Jekyll is hardly a selfless idealist.

“Jekyll is certainly not an unselfish character. His father’s condition is a driving force for him, but he also dreams of being remembered as one of the greatest scientist of all time”, Halkola says.

“Jekyll is afraid that he’ll inherit his father’s illness. And as a scientist, he is concerned about his own career. Trying to convince the hospital board to support his experiment, he comes up with grander and nobler reasons for it”, Leponiemi continues.

Dr. Jekyll’s experiment fails spectacularly and gives birth to his cruel alter ego, Edward Hyde.

“The formula affects Jekyll’s morale somehow. It shuts down whatever it is that stops us from acting upon all our whims. Jekyll starts to enjoy this feeling – he doesn’t have to be responsible for his actions or feel any pangs of conscience anymore”, Halkola describes his interpretation.

“All of us have a dark side. In different people, different things bring that darkness to the surface. When it comes to Jekyll, it’s formula HJ7 that does the trick”, Leponiemi adds.

In Stevenson’s novella, the formula even affects Jekyll’s looks. Many adaptations also alter the leading actor’s appearance – many musical productions for example give Jekyll and Hyde different hairstyles. In the Finnish production, the two characters are a lot closer to each other, both physically and mentally.

“We approach the story from a different angle than many other adaptations. Our starting point was that Jekyll and Hyde are the same person. His behavior and his way of thinking change, but his personality is the same all the way through”, Halkola explains.

“In the very beginning, we decided that our version of the musical is not a fairytale. There is no respectable doctor and a monster in this story. Instead, good guys have their bad habits and bad guys have something good and compassionate in them”, he continues.

“Hyde is Jekyll’s left-hand man”, Leponiemi summarises the two characters.

Sympathy, tenderness

Jekyll & Hyde the musical introduces to women to Jekyll and Hyde’s story. Jekyll’s bride-to-be Emma and working girl Lucy bring out different sides of the main character.

“It’s an old cliché that behind every successful man there is a strong woman. I think that would be true in Jekyll and Emma’s case… But they don’t get the chance to make it so far”, Halkola says about Jekyll’s relationship to Emma.

“To Emma, it’s clear that Jekyll’s experiment is going to fail. But even so, she loves and respects him, so she also supports his project”, Leponiemi adds.

Jekyll’s engagement to Emma doesn’t stop Hyde from visiting Lucy’s bedroom.

“As Hyde, Jekyll gets to do what he wants, be with whoever he wants and however he likes. Lucy is a victim of his abuse. It’s a fascinating contrast how she falls in love with Jekyll at the same time”, Halkola says.

“Even though our Jekyll and Hyde are the same person, in Lucy’s eyes they are different”, Leponiemi continues.

Near the end of the show, Hyde murders Lucy. The musical’s script leaves the plot twist unexplained, offering no motivation for the crime. Halkola and Leponiemi have interpreted the scene in two different ways.

“Hyde has a feeling, humane side. He wants to love and to feel accepted. He thinks that maybe Lucy is a bold, daring woman who doesn’t care about good manners or the society’s expectations. Then he finds out that it’s actually the mild-mannered Jekyll Lucy has fallen in love with. In a way, Hyde starts feeling jealous”, Halkola explains his interpretation.

“Hyde wants Lucy to look at him with loving eyes, but there’s only fear in her eyes. That’s what pushes him over the edge.”

Leponiemi sees the scene in a different light.

“Hyde feels something positive towards Lucy. He however believes that love makes him weaker. Starting to feel compassion towards others would put an end to Hyde’s mission of killing the hypocrites who run the hospital. Hyde believes positive feelings cannot have a place in his heart, so he decides it’s better to put a stop to them.”

Terrified, but in a good way

Jekyll & Hyde the musical consists of 30 songs and lasts for almost three hours. Both leading men say that each performance is a new kind of journey.

“Every show is a new adventure. Beforehand, I often wonder what’s going to happen tonight and how the performance will be like. Each time, I’m terrified, but in a good way. How can I survive this?” Leponiemi shares his pre-show thoughts.

“Exactly. When am I going to make a mistake tonight? There are plenty of opportunities!” Halkola laughs.

“Feeling nervous like this keeps you awake. And in the end, it’s a good thing. I feel incredible after every performance”, Leponiemi says.

There are only 16 performances of Jekyll & Hyde left for Jyväskylän kaupunginteatteri’s cast and crew. Both leads say that it’s easy for them to welcome new audiences to see the musical.

“We love performing this show. We believe we have an outstanding production of Jekyll & Hyde”, Leponiemi summarises the whole cast’s feelings.

Photos by Jiri Halttunen.
Read more: Standing by Dr. Jekyll’s Side – interview with Emma and Lucy

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