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Former Miss America plays Emma



STAFF PHOTOS: JONATHON HOUSE - Katie Harman Ebner and Kirk Mouser star in Stumptown Stages Jekyll  & Hyde, opening tomorrow in Portland5 Brunish Theatre at Antoinette Hatfield Hall, 1111 S.W. Broadway. For tickets call 1-800-273-1530 or visit StumptownStages.org.

Although Kirk Mouser and Katie Harman Ebner were both active in the theater department at Centennial High School, they graduated in different years and never appeared together onstage — until now. The pair are co-leads in Stumptown Stage’s upcoming production of “Jekyll & Hyde,” opening Sept. 29 at Portland’5 Brunish Theatre at Antoinette Hatfield Hall in downtown Portland.

Mouser, 49, executive artistic director and founder of Stumptown Stages, is Dr. Jekyll in the show, and Harman Ebner, 36, plays Emma, his devoted fiancée.

Dr. Jekyll decides to make himself the subject of his own experimental treatments, accidentally unleashing his inner demons along with the man the world would come to know as Mr. Hyde.

Miss America

A trained opera singer, Harman Ebner, has performed all over the world, but is best known as the only Miss Oregon to go on to become Miss America, in September of 2001.

Through the pageants she won enough scholarship money to earn her bachelor’s degree in communications from Portland State University. In 2003, she married Air National Guard pilot Tim Ebner, moved to Klamath Falls and started a family, choosing to defer her dream of earning a graduate degree.

But this past September, the Miss America Foundation, Inc. named Harman Ebner as the inaugural recipient of its new Former Miss America Discretionary Scholarship; she will receive up to $10,000 in scholarship assistance to continue her studies at Southern Oregon University in music performance.

On Sept. 29, Harman Ebner will fly from Portland to Medford, catch a ride to Ashland and attend classes for several hours, and then fly back for opening night of “Jekyll & Hyde.”

Dr. Jekyll

Mouser, a Lake Oswego resident, is a professional actor who has performed in Los Angeles, New York City and places in between. He returned to the Portland area 12 years ago and founded Stumptown Stages.

Mouser appeared in a production of “Jekyll & Hyde” at the Gateway Playhouse in New York in 2001, and chose the show to open Stumptown Stages’ 13th season because the “talent pool here would make it a musically great show to do in Portland.”

The show is “an epic piece set in the time of Jack the Ripper,” and is almost entirely sung, Mouser said, adding, “It is like an opera with a pop-rock score.”

In “Jekyll & Hyde,” Mouser’s character is “on a quest to create a formula to separate evil from good to eliminate anger and strife in the world.”

But in this quest, Jekyll becomes “a fanatic and loses his own way,” he says. Audience members will have sympathy for his character, Mouser believes, because “we love to be in touch with our darker side — those elements are in each of us.”

Dr. Jekyll “is very passionate; very driven, and feels he is doing right. But he is held back by others, who are afraid of change,” Mouser said.

Ultimately, Dr. Jekyll decides to make himself the subject of his own experimental treatments, accidentally unleashing his inner demons along with the man the world would come to know as Mr. Hyde.

His character is accused of trying to play God, but “it is not about that for him. He thinks he is making mankind healthier and is very passionate in his work and relationships,” Mouser says.

The role “has been fun for me as an actor; I am able to let go and take a risk, because I feel safe with strong actors and a strong director,” he adds.

“Kirk’s passion for the role motivates every single character” in the show, Harman Ebner says.

‘Lyricism’

As for what audiences will like best about “Jekyll & Hyde,” both actors say the music and the staging will draw people in.

The music and lyrics are by Grammy and Tony-nominated Frank Wildhorn, “who does some wonderful, artistic pieces; he understands the entertainment value” of the music, Mouser says.

“There’s so much lyricism in his music; the musical takes the original (Robert Louis Stevenson) story and (gives it) a more operatic quality,” Harman Ebner says.

The show is “searing to the heart,” she notes, precisely because it has those darker, operatic elements and is mostly sung.

“People will walk out the door humming the songs,” she adds.

As for the staging, Mouser says that director Jon Kretzu has utilized the Brunish Theatre’s intimacy to put the “audience right into the action.”

Audiences will be “engrossed and will connect with what the actors are doing,” Harman Ebner says.

Mouser adds, “People like the dramatic elements (in the musical) and those elements are in each of us, but we have learned how to control our primitive nature. People are passionate about ‘Jekyll & Hyde,’ and it is very romantic in a twisted way.”

The play opens Sept. 29 and continues through Oct. 16, with 7:30 p.m. shows Thursday, Friday and Saturday in Portland’5 Brunish Theatre at Antoinette Hatfield Hall, 1111 S.W. Broadway.

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