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What's New on the Rialto

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What's New on the Rialto

Jane Eyre
The Musical

Bringing in a new musical is never easy, even for one as eagerly anticipated as Jane Eyre. The long road to a Broadway opening night can take years, and some shows, for whatever reason, never make it. Jane Eyre has, to date, triumphed in three pre-Broadway productions, gaining fervent fans and a website along the way. While Jane Eyre's producers scramble to book a Broadway theatre, we asked Paul Gordon to bring us up to date on the show's progress so far.

Paul Gordon has written the music and lyrics for the musicals Greetings from Venice Beach and Jane Eyre. He is currently developing the musical Daddy-Long-Legs with John Caird and Steven Tyler and The Magnificent Ambersons with Jay Gruska. In the pop field, he has written for numerous recording artists, has several hit songs, and is the recipient of eight ASCAP awards. In film, Paul has just completed writing and co-directing the independent film "Dirk and Betty" staring Marisa Tomai, Eric Roberts and Jonathan Silverman.

The Evolution of Jane
by Paul Gordon

Part One

I had a moment, sitting in the dark, during tech rehearsal of Jane Eyre in La Jolla, when I remembered the first time I saw Les Miz. It was over nine years ago, and I remembered thinking at the time, " if I could just work with these guys, I could be part of a great musical". And then I was back in the present moment. Working with these guys, trying to remember how I got here.

As the story goes, I first came upon the idea for Jane Eyre when I was browsing a book store at the Logan Airport on my way home to Los Angeles. It was the winter of 1990. I'd been pondering an idea for a new musical for months but with little success. I started reading the blurbs on the backs of the novels in the classic book section and came away with three books. Little Women, Vilitte and Jane Eyre. I don't know, perhaps if I had started reading Vilitte first I would have written Vilitte, the Musical. But I started with Jane Eyre and by page ten I was weeping. I could barely restrain myself from writing music then and there. Fortunately I was on the plane, and had to wait until I got home and finished the book.

The first draft of Jane Eyre took me about a year to write and record. My first stroke of good fortune was having Anthony Crivello sing the part of a servant in the very last recording days of that first demo. It was Anthony who introduced me to John Caird, who was on holiday in L.A. with his then wife, Frances.

To say meeting John Caird, the co-director of Les Miserables and Nicholas Nickleby, has changed my life would be an oversimplification, but indeed my life has changed.

When I listen to the original demo now, I marvel at how John was able to hear the seeds of what is now Jane Eyre. From correcting my spelling, to challenging each lyric, his influence on the development of this piece has been extraordinary. Still, I wish he'd go a little easier on me sometimes. Okay, so St. John is pronounced "Sin Gin", not Saint John. I'm American, these things happen.

John and I worked gradually on the piece over the next two years. We did a series of presentations to various producer types, performed by a group of my friends who sang to pre-recorded tracks. When the good folks at Manhattan Theater Club finally gave us our first workshop in 1994, Michael Rafter became the show's first music director. What a joy it was for me, hearing my music interpreted at the hands of a skilled professional for the first time. The next great thrill was watching John Caird stage the reading. The demo I had recorded a few years earlier came to life before my eyes. It was an extraordinary feeling. Six months later, in the winter of 1995 we would be in, of all places, Wichita, Kansas.

The reason John chose The Wichita Center for the Performing Arts was because the year before they had done a production of the John Caird - Stephen Schwartz musical Children of Eden. And so I packed my winter clothes and with Marla Schaffel as Jane, Anthony Crivello as Rochester and Angela Lockett as Helen Burns, the first full production of Jane Eyre played for three weeks at the Wichita Center for the Performing Arts.

The people were great. The community supported us and embraced Jane Eyre. Plus, as an added bonus, the review was a rave. (Okay, so it was written by the mother of one of the Lowood Orphans, but still, she really liked us).

In the winter of 1996, (why can't we ever do this show during the summer?), Jane Eyre moved into the Royal Alexandra Theater in Toronto. With the production now being produced by David Mirvish (the owner of the Royal Alex), Jane Eyre ran for three months playing to capacity houses.

With Mary Stout joining the cast as Mrs. Fairfax and Elizabeth DeGrazia as Blanche Ingram, a set by John Napier, costumes by Andreane Neofitou, musical direction by Steven Tyler, lighting by Chris Perry, orchestrations by Larry Hochman, sound by Tom Clark, this was a chance to test the show in a very big house - the 1,500 seat Royal Alex. Only things did not go exactly as planned.

The other show playing in town was called Ragtime.

It was a mixed blessing for us that Jane Eyre and Ragtime opened so close together. On the up side, I got to meet Audra. Also, I got great seats to see the show, which I loved, and had my picture taken with the composer, Stephen Flaherty. On the down side, Ragtime brought with it the world press. Our production was still "growing" and we ended up getting a lot of attention we didn't bargain for. And while now I see how much that process has helped us and made the show stronger, at the time it was rather overwhelming. It didn't matter that the musical was getting standing ovations every night. It was clear there was still more work to do. Also, there were no Broadway theaters available.

We were all dressed up with no place to go.

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