By Thomas Stubbs, Staff Writer
For me, going to the theatre is always a treat. At its best, the medium excites and inspires me like nothing else on Earth. Sitting at Greenville’s Centre Stage Theatre, poised to take in their production of “Jekyll and Hyde: The Musical,” the prospect of seeing the show would have been enough to keep me checking my watch, impatiently awaiting the start time.
What made this production particularly noteworthy was its star. The dual part of the noble Dr. Jekyll and the murderous Edward Hyde was played by Furman’s own Josh Thomason, class of 2014. Students a year older than yours truly will remember him as the villainous Javert in the Pauper Players’ production of Les Miserables back in the spring of 2014. Even before that, however, Thomason was something of a Pauper Players institution, appearing in their productions of Company!, Spring Awakening and two Cabarets. Since graduation, he and his wife, Morgan, another Furman alum, lived in Chicago, where Thomason studied improvisational theatre, before happenstance brought him back to Greenville and into this production.
“Morgan had to have knee surgery, so we decided it would be best to go through that process back here at home,” Thomason said, “and not long after we got here, I heard about auditions for this show, and decided to try out.”
Like its literary inspiration, Robert Louis Stevenson’s “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” the musical adaptation is centered on a man who, through some alchemic science of his own invention, tears his personality in two, forcing his virtuous and evil natures to do battle with one another for control over his thoughts and actions. For all practical purposes, Jekyll and Hyde are two completely different people, so playing them both — sometimes within a single scene — presented Thomason with a unique challenge.
“The most challenging thing was finding Jekyll, since he’s the more subtle of the two. The quality that I eventually latched onto was stillness. He’s a very still presence, upright and a little stiff. Hyde, on the other hand, is basic instinct, all primeval hunger and lust,” Thomason said. “The way I transition between the two was actually inspired by Andy Serkis’ performance in ‘Planet of the Apes.’ I was watching a special feature on the DVD where he demonstrated his physical transition from a man into an ape. I wasn’t even watching it to help with my performance, but when I saw what he was doing I thought: ‘that’s what I need for Jekyll and Hyde.’”
In the eyes of this reviewer, he succeeded. Thomason’s Jekyll is a good man, well-mannered and reserved, hobbled only by his blinding ambition and the resentment he feels towards the aristocrats who oversee his work at St. Jude’s Hospital, which he views as morally bankrupt men and women who hide behind the impenetrable veneer of respectability. Thus, his Hyde becomes something of a vigilante avenger, punishing those who trade on hypocrisy while committing his own sins proudly and openly. Jekyll stands quietly beneath street lamps, still as the night around him, while Hyde skulks his way around the production’s multi-tiered set, leaping from one platform to another, intoxicated by how alive his lust and thirst for power make him feel.
I asked Thomason whether the roller coaster ride of playing such a character night after night had become a draining experience. Only one performance away from closing, he replied: “Not really. Doing it so much, you get into a rhythm. The challenge is to find something new to bring to the show every night.”
Nor is he tired of Greenville and Centre Stage.
“I’ll probably be down here for at least another year. The people at Centre Stage have been so supportive and great to work with. I’ll stay with them for as long as they want me,” he said.
I for one hope to attend many more productions featuring this distinguished Furman alum.