Past Articles

What's New on the Rialto

Past Articles

What's New on the Rialto

Jane Eyre
The Musical

The Evolution of Jane
by Paul Gordon

Part Two

In the next two years major changes would occur. First, we welcomed in a new set of lead producers; Annette Niemtzow, Janet Robinson (with us since the days of Manhattan Theater Club) and Pamela Koslow. They infused a new energy into the project and orchestrated a series of workshops and writing sessions which everyone felt were necessary to bring the musical forward.

John Caird also came to the decision that he wanted to work with a co-director. As the book writer he felt it better to have a directing partner so that he could focus more attention on the book during rehearsals. I was in favor of this, because I felt it would give he and I more time to tweak the show as it was being staged, a luxury we did not have in Toronto. So, Scott Schwartz was brought in as co-director and the next work session was arranged.

Somewhere in the backwoods of Connecticut we were all brought together. Everyone came in with their own set of ideas on what would improve the show. (We had even received notes from Stephen Schwartz which all of us felt were right on target with what we were trying to achieve). I, myself, was constantly working on the show at home in L.A. ; changing, fixing, writing new songs. John, on the other hand, thrives in group situations and often does his best work on the fly.

So, Steve Tyler, Scott Schwartz, Larry Hochman, John Caird and I set out to work on tightening the musical. We knew that the piece needed airing out, both in story and music. We condensed the complexities of the story. We collapsed secondary characters into one another. We learned that we didn't have to perform the novel on stage to stay true to the spirit of Charlotte Bronte's book.

As for the music, we took out a lot of the recitative, giving the ear a chance to rest and hopefully making the music that remained more engaging. Several new songs were written and a few old ones that weren't serving the story-telling, were cut. (Sometimes you have to murder your darlings).

At the end of the week, after I had survived the personal cook hired to feed us, (sorry, I don't eat borscht and vichyssoise), John, Scott, Steve, Larry, myself and long time cast member Nell Balaban sang through the entire show for our producers and some invited guests. From there, many more discussions took place. More refinements were made and the work seemed ready for another reading.

With Jim Barbour now playing the role of Rochester, a reading of Jane Eyre took place in New York in the fall of 1998. In attendance was Michael Greif, the Artistic Director of the La Jolla Playhouse (better known as the director of the Broadway hit Rent). He and Terry Dwyer (the Managing Director of The La Jolla Playhouse) invited us to do Jane Eyre on it's main stage. And the best part of all - we were to open in the summer. Everyone was elated.

We had come close to doing the show at the La Jolla Playhouse once before. Terry Dwyer had seen the show in Wichita and we almost came to the Playhouse in 1996, but the show went to Toronto instead. Now we would finally have the opportunity to play at the same venue that launched such shows as Tommy, How to Succeed in Business, and Big River.

The last remaining improvement was John Napier's revolutionary new set (which our producers supported to the tune of more than a million dollars). Although I personally loved his design in Toronto, John Napier was anxious to create something that would now complement the work the rest of us had done over the last many months. He created a revolving carousel from above that delivered the set pieces in a circular motion, in tandem with three floor revolves, all run by computer. Gardens would retreat from sight while huge paintings swirled into place from above. Stairways and hallways and rooms appear and recede as scenes shift seamlessly into one another. All this because I happened to pick up a novel in a bookstore? I was beside myself with glee.

Jane Eyre opened at the La Jolla Playhouse in July of last year where we were an unqualified hit (they tell me we were the most successful show in the history of the Playhouse outside of Rent). And of course we fully expected to move into New York right after our engagement in La Jolla was over. But once again, all the appropriate houses were filled and we found ourselves in an all too familiar situation; all dressed up with truly no place to go. (Articles in places like the Wall Street Journal supported us; theater owners said they wanted us - but there was no room at a Broadway inn).

This time, however, we have producers that refuse to give up. We have a show that we know is Broadway worthy. We have a wonderful cast and enthusiastic fans. And yes, we're still tinkering with the show. But it's fine tuning now, as we are most happy with what we saw in La Jolla.

If I have learned anything from this remarkable journey, it's that one must never lose faith.

Hopefully that faith will manifest into a Broadway production before the year is out.

(Note: Since this article was written Jane Eyre producers have announced a Broadway opening for the musical on December 3, 2000 at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre. Previews begin on November 7.)

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