Jane Eyre, which opened yesterday afternoon at the Brooks Atkinson theatre, has been brought to the stage as a musical of majestic grace and more than a little grandeur. A successful dramatic interpretation of the ever-popular novel by Charlotte Bronte, Jane is also blessed with a luxuriant score, haunting and memorable music, and crisp, intelligent lyrics which speak from the very heart of this tragic and romantic story. John Caird, who wrote the book, and Paul Gordon, who wrote the music and lyrics, have come up with a major contender come Spring’s award time.
True to its 19th century origins, Jane Eyre is a lavish Victorian banquet of emotions; passion, cruelty, revenge, repression, courage, emotional and physical abuse, faith and forgiveness, and love - most of all the eternal healing power of an all-consuming love.
Jane’s story is that of a plain yet spirited girl, orphaned at an early age, who becomes governess at Thornfield Hall, where she falls in love with Edward Rochester, the master of the house. Though Jane’s sharp wit and defiant nature clash with Rochester’s temperament, the two quickly develop a deep bond. But, Rochester’s past, a dark secret imprisoned at Thornfield, threatens to destroy their love just as it begins, as it ultimately destroys Thornfield Hall itself.
There are many exceptionally fine performances here, not the least of which are Lisa Musser as Young Jane, who has a commanding and touching stage presence far beyond what one might expect from an actress of her tender years, and Andrea Bowen as the charming and irrepressible Adele.
Jayne Patterson makes a significant contribution to the production in the small but pivotal role of Helen Burns. Elizabeth DeGrazia’s Blanche Ingram is everything it needs to be, and more. Stephen R. Buntrock delivers a well developed character in his brief turn late in the show as St. John Rivers. And Bruce Dow, as Robert, and Don Richard, as Mr. Brocklehurst, have an impact which exceeds the size of their roles.
Mary Stout as the hard of hearing, dithering Marigold is a pure delight. Walking the fine line between cliché and true character, her performance is one of both great humor and artistic integrity.
James Barbour’s Rochester makes one realize how long it’s been since we’ve seen an emotionally complex, masculine and virile character successfully portrayed on the Broadway musical stage. Barbour’s handsome and rugged good looks fairly define the term “matinee idol” and his deep singing voice seems perfectly matched to the romantic lyrics of his songs, so it came as no surprise to witness several hundred women in the audience at the preview I attended actually swooning and moaning in pleasure at his performance.
With Jane Eyre, Marla Schaffel joins that small group of great stars of the American musical theatre - Angela Lansbury, Julie Andrews, and Bernadette Peters - who, lady-like to the core, can effortlessly carry a major musical on their delicate shoulders and enchant an audience with a smile.
If this show has a down side, it’s the physical production. John Napier’s technical design for the stage machinery may be innovative and groundbreaking - indeed scenery was flying all over the place in a smoothly choreographed dance at the performance I attended - but, alas, to little effect. Between all those spinning window and topiary units, projections which failed to give a sense of spectacle, the disappointing burning of Thornfield Hall effect, and what looked to be a large paper-mache tree left over from a tour of Camelot, it was difficult not to laugh at inappropriate moments. Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer’s lighting design only seemed to contribute to the mess. Andreane Neofitou’s costumes, while appropriate and well designed, didn’t help much either. The direction, by John Caird and Scott Schwartz, wildly swings between just plain flat and the curiously derivative.
Pictured left to right - Lisa Musser (Young Jane), Marla Schaffel (Jane Eyre), and Jayne Patterson (Helen Burns).
Jane Eyre Book and additional lyrics by John Caird. Music and lyrics by Paul Gordon. Directed by John Caird and Scott Schwartz. Scenic design by John Napier. Costume design by Andreane Neofitou. Lighting design by Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer. Sound design by Mark Menard and Tom Clark. Associate scenic design Keith Gonzales. Assistant director Jayne Patterson. Projections design by John Napier, Lisa Podgur Cuscuna, Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer. Musical director Steve Tyler. Orchestration by Larry Hochman. Starring Marla Schaffel, James Barbour and Mary Stout.
Theatre: Brooks Atkinson Theatre, 256 West 47th Street
Running time: 2 hours and 45 minutes including one 15 minute intermission
Schedule: Tuesday through Saturday at 8 PM, Wednesday and Saturday at 2 PM, Sunday at 3 PM.
Audience: Children under 4 are not permitted in the theatre.
Ticket prices: $50 - $86
Tickets online: Ticketmaster
Tickets by phone: Ticketmaster at (212) 307-4100
Tickets in person: Box Office hours Monday through Saturday 10 AM to 8 PM, Sunday Noon to 6 PM.