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Jane Eyre -- The Musical
a Musical
CATEGORY :
by John Caird and Paul Gordon

COMPANY : The Legacy Theatre [WEBSITE]
VENUE : The Legacy Theatre [WEBSITE]
ID# 4245

SHOWING : January 27, 2012 - February 19, 2012

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PRODUCTION DESCRIPTION

Romance. Secrets. Haunting. These are the words that might come to mind while taking a walk through the ethereal English moors of the 5-time Tony nominated Broadway musical, Jane Eyre. This musical adaptation of the 19th century novel by Charlotte Bronte features the work of composer lyricist Paul Gordon (Emma) and book-writer/lyricist John Caird (Les Miserables; Children of Eden), whom have granted the Legacy the regional premier of their new version of the show. This is one you will not want to miss. Rated PG.


CAST & CREW LIST
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REVIEWS

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Sirens Sweetly Singing
by Dedalus
Wednesday, February 29, 2012
3.5
For my first visit to Tyrone’s Legacy Theatre, I was brought face-to-face with “Jane Eyre – The Musical,” a rewritten version of the musical that managed to win five 2001 Tony nominations. This is indeed one of those heavily-workshopped, constantly-changinf shows (compare “Jekyll and Hyde,” “Martin Guerre,” even “Merrily We Roll Along”), one in which the creators tinker ad infinitum, and one which divides the audience over which version is the best. This being my first contact with the show (excepting, of course, the original Broadway recording, the novel, and the many film versions), I am perhaps not in the best position to judge its comparative quality.

Not to delay my judgment too long, although I am an ardent admirer of Charlotte Bronte’s novel, and enjoy listening to the songs on the Original Cast recording, I have a few, nay, I have many reservations about the structure of this show and its effectiveness.

That being said, I have absolutely no reservations about the quality of the leading performances by Katie Mitchell (Jane) and Stephen Mitchell Brown (Rochester). Both have star-making belt voices that blend together perfectly, and, both voices have a dramatic range that traverses the gamut from soft and tender lullaby to shake-the-rafters intensity. Mr. Brown possesses a strong baritone that surprises like a fine sherry – at once velvety smooth and bone-shatteringly strong, and Ms. Mitchell, perhaps a shade too attractive for the quintessential “plain Jane,” sings with a full-throated vulnerability that wins us to her side from her first notes to her last.

My reservations about the structure of the play involve the apparent lack of narrative drive inherent in the admittedly admirable songs. Too much of the story relies on the music (it is almost – not quite – completely sung through), and yet, each individual number is more reflective, introspective, than tell-the-story driven. We get songs about faith, about love, about temptation, about greed. We get few songs about what the characters are doing, about what came before, about what comes next. This makes the story and the supporting characters, by necessity, shallow and thin. Apart from Jane and Rochester (and perhaps Mrs. Fairfax), everyone is either too too good or too too evil. We get no sense of why they are the way they are or why they do the things they do. Even this revision chose (for whatever reason) to add the completely unnecessary characters of Jane’s parents, who start the show with a forgettable new song that adds nothing plot-wise or character-wise.

And, given the drama of the original novel, this is a major consideration. Too often during this production, I was confronted with a song I would normally like, but which here seemed to provide nothing but delay in the progression of Jane’s life story. Songs I’d enjoyed on the recording, I now waited impatiently to complete.

On the other hand, the decision to have the adult Jane interact with her younger self works extraordinarily well, giving the entire show a “patchwork memory” veneer that serves the story well.

And yet, despite the overlong progression of the production, I still found myself entranced and moved. Despite the questionable choices and lies-of-omission made by Rochester (**), I found myself rooting for his romance with our heroine. Despite the “marking time” aspect of too many of the songs, I found myself listening with (impatient) pleasure. And because of the overwhelming talents of the two leads, I found myself leaving the theatre with fond thoughts for this story and for this show.

If some of the supporting performances were just-off-book bland, if the staging of too many songs were recital-static and movement-deprived, if the (many) projections and scrim effects were unclear or distracting or simply unattractive, that made little difference. This is Jane and Rochester’s story, and it rises and falls on their songs and their interactions, and, in the more-than-capable voices of Ms. Mitchell and Mr. Brown, it succeeds. Greatly aided by a small and skillful (albeit unseen) 9-piece orchestra, this musical journey is indeed the “siren-song” so dramatically voiced by Mr. Rochester that leads the hapless audience onto the rocky shoals of (slight) structural disappointments.

Not to rise above my station as a mere scribbler of praises and pans, but I can’t resist alluding to Ms. Bronte’s original text, and conclude by acknowledging I feel ever so compelled to temper judgment with mercy.

-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com)

** For a harsh look at the young Rochester, I recommend Jean Rhys’ 1966 novel, “Wide Sargasso Sea,” a Jane Eyre “prequel” that looks at his courtship and marriage to “the madwoman in the attic.” It was made into a 1996 opera, a 2006 TV movie, and a 1993 “artistically erotic” (ahem) movie . And don’t get me started on the wonderfully “out there” “The Eyre Affair” by Jasper Fforde.


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