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Seattle by David-Edward Hughes

Jane Eyre Sings Needlessly at Taproot Theatre

Also see David's review of When Sparks Fly


Art Anderson and Jessica Spencer
Every Broadway musical flop or failure has its adherents, and Taproot Theatre's choosing to exhume the 209 Broadway performance adaptation of Jane Eyre shows that someone on the company's staff thought it worthy, though for the life of me I can't see why. This condensed, nearly humorless and stolid show (music and lyrics by composer-lyricist Paul Gordon and a book by John Caird, based on the classic novel by Charlotte Brontë) is what Stephen Sondheim once called a "Why?" musical. The addition of songs necessitates eliminating much of the first third of the book, and often the musical sections of Jane Eyre are fragments, with chorus members narrating Jane's words to us, with inauspicious lyrics and sound-alike musical phrases.

If you haven't read the book or seen one of the numerous film versions, this is not the one to introduce you to orphaned Jane who, after being cast out to a boarding school by her hard-hearted aunt and dreadful cousin, ultimately ends up as a governess for mysterious Edward Rochester, master of Thornfield Hall's beguiling little ward Adele. Jane and Rochester, after a chilly start, discover feelings for each other, and he spurns the attentions of a vain and vacuous lady of standing to clear the road for his marriage to Jane. But what of the mysterious and disturbed woman he keeps locked away in another wing of Thornfield? Jane learns the truth of her identity and departs. Mere days later, the woman tries to burn down the house, leaving Rochester maimed and crippled. Gothic romances being what they are, Jane later "hears" his voice, and returns to Thornfield to be by his side. A great musical score might have transformed the dourness of the tale, but in my estimation at least, this show is not to be compared to a far more worthy (and musically rapturous) show like The Secret Garden. If I had to hear one more person sing the name Jane yet again, I might have burnt down Thornfield myself.

In the title role, Jessica Spencer labors heartily with vast amounts of dialogue and song, but seldom varies her performance or allows us to see what draws the reclusive and damaged Rochester to her. Art Anderson as Edward Rochester is an almost too exuberant and effusive presence in this role, though he sings with power and passion, and has a moment when in disguise he lifts the entire production up with one of the tale's few clever numbers, "The Gypsy." April Poland also brings some welcome levity to the proceedings as the vain Blanche Ingram, and she and Spencer blend their voices attractively in their duet "In the Light of the Virgin Morning." Karen Lund is both doughty and comical as Rochester's housekeeper Mrs. Fairfax, while young Celeste-Castaneda Lopez impresses as both young Jane and precocious Adele (Abby Brittle alternates in these roles). Faith Russell steals her scenes as the stern Aunt and as Blanche Ingram's condescending Mama. Then other talented cast members lack roles written in such a way to help them create a strung impression.

Musical director Edd Key deftly creates a harmonious blend between his actors and the small but solid band. Choreographer Beth Orme is challenged to create much in the way of actual dances for this inert musical. Mark Lund's handsome scenic design is a real asset, and his sound design is admirable. Lighting by Andrew Duff creates the right moods, and Sarah Burch Gordon's costuming comfortably establishes the period.

Jane Eyre runs through August 16, 2014, at Taproot Theatre, 204 N. 85th Street, Seattle, WA. For more information and tickets visit www.taproottheatre.org.


Photo: Erik Stuhaug



- David Edward Hughes



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