Songs of Travel and Other Verses

Robert Louis Stevenson books housed in a Samoan museum dedicated to his life

I found this gem of a title while reviewing a long list of works by Scottish novelist, essayist and poet Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-94). Treasure Island. A Child’s Garden of Verses. Essays in the Art of Writing. New Arabian Nights.

Also The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, written in 1886, which explores the duality of human nature, the battle between rationality and irrationality, and contrasting elements of London life during the Victorian period.

It’s been repeatedly adapted for film. John Barrymore played the lead in 1920, Fredric March in 1931, Spencer Tracy in 1941. David Hasselhoff got the gig for a 2001 television version dubbed “Jekyll & Hyde: The Musical.”

Of course, every time that vision pops into my head, I rush to play a cast album — original or revival — of the musical adaptation performed on Broadway. Like “Sweeney Todd,” it’s got truly touching loves songs mixed in with all that murder and mayhem.

An adaptation of the Stevenson tale by playwright Andrea McFeely is being presented Oct. 13-15 by the performing arts department at Chandler-Gilbert Community College, which performs at the Arnette Scott Ward Performing Arts Center.

It’s being directed by Shalynn Reynolds — and features Sam Allen (Dr. Jekyll) and Guy Valentine (Mr. Hyde) in the lead roles. There are 13 people in the cast, described by Reynolds as “extremely dedicated actors who have worked tirelessly to create a work of art.”

“All the actors,” explains Reynolds, “have worked really hard on various British and Cockney accents.” Reynolds sounds especially proud of the set, which “has the ability to transform into multiple locations between scenes.” She also shares that “some of the items in Jekyll’s lab are actually from the late 1800s.”

Reynolds says the show “would be rated PG-13 due to the violence of several deaths onstage” — adding that she had to spend a lot of time getting Valentine “to be creepy, callous and murderous.” Sounds like a good way to get into the Halloween spirit, though you might leave the show wishing their costume people made house calls.

While reviewing the program for the show, I was struck by the tone of genuine gratitude. We take each other too often for granted, in theater world and the world at large. It’s refreshing to find folks who express appreciation with such elegance and ease.

I was impressed as well by a series of statements shared in the program under the heading “Why do we need Theatre?” They read as follows:

  • Theatre prepares students for life in the real world by guiding personal development and refinement of interpersonal skills.
  • Theatre has the ability to affect students on a personal level by contributing to mental, emotional, and social growth.
  • Theatre helps students develop a sense of community and social responsibility.
  • Theatre gives students the opportunity to voice opinions, explore personal concerns, and produce viable solutions to problems.
  • Theatre encourages diversity and the exploration of human experience.
  • Theatre asks students to be active participants and advocates for others, aware of surroundings and their ability to mediate and effect change.
  • Theatre communicates the fact that as many ways as we humans are different, we share common bonds and can connect with everyone on some level, bringing new understanding and compassion to our lives.

I’ve never seen students from Chandler-Gilbert Community College perform, but this glimpse into the way they approach the world and the craft of theater intrigues me — and I’m eager to experience their work.

This weekend will find me in New York City, creating my own variation on “songs of travel” — so I’ll have to miss this and many other works being performed on Valley stages.

But I’ll be keeping an eye out, as I visit NYC libraries and museums, for all things related to Robert Louis Stevenson — a man with much to teach us about the complexities of all sorts of travel.

— Lynn

Note: Click here for details about this and other CGCC performing arts offerings, and here to learn about a BBC drama based on Stevenson’s travel writings and personal letters.

Coming up: Art meets homeschooling, Got blue?

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