Corrections or additions?

This review by Simon Saltzman was prepared for the January 24,

2001 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Broadway Review: `Jane Eyre’

The doom and gloom musical is attempting to find favor

on Broadway with "Jane Eyre," yet another stage version of

Charlotte Bronte’s 19th-century love story. Unlike the monotonous,

over-produced production presented by Huntington Hartford on Broadway

in the late 1950s, starring marble-mouthed Eric Portman, and the more

recent Classic Comics version by Robert Johanson, adapted a few

seasons

back for the Paper Mill Playhouse, this newest version not only

gainfully

lumbers from one presumably obligatory plot point to the next, but

from one pretentiously ordinary aria to the next.

If this musicalization, the work of John Caird (book and additional

lyrics), Paul Gordon (music and lyrics), and Caird and Scott Schwartz

(direction), only aspires to create the somber and dark moods and

manners of the original, they have succeeded all too well. Even given

the implausibly happy outcome that evidently worked its magic on

Victorian

readers, and later on movie audiences who consumed four or more screen

versions, the dire melodramatic doings that gets us there hardly makes

any sense. And does anyone care?

One thing that can be said for this creative team is that the story

of an abused and abandoned orphan who finds contentment as a governess

in the mysterious estate of a dour and troubled master — but not

before lots of misery — is, though hard to swallow, easy to

follow.

One of main problems with the show is the scenic design by John

Napier,

the same man who created such thrilling and imaginative effects in

his previous collaborations with Caird for "Les Miserables"

and "Nicholas Nickleby." In this instance, Napier’s concept

is a series of minimalist, expressionistic projections that allude

to places, rather than evoke them. Given the sprawling nature of the

narrative, this technique does allow for swift and subtle changes.

But it is never pleasing to see — when it can be seen at all.

Chris Parry’s 40-watt-type lighting design offers an exercise in

atmospheric

eye-strain that may, at best, save the producers a few thousand

dollars

each week. Yet his attempt to create a ghostly aura merely creates

a ghastly pall.

One may assume that the producers and the creative team have had

plenty

of time to develop their artistic goals in the five years the musical

has been in development, a period that included gigs in Kansas, and

from Canada to La Jolla. There may be those who will enjoy the talky

narrative passages that Jane is called upon to provide. I find it

a lazy dramatic device. During the times when Jane is called upon

to sing her heart out, others in the company pick up the narrative

thread. Perhaps if the suitably unassuming Marla Schaffel, who plays

Jane and has a beautiful voice, had the kind of attention-grabbing

presence to keep us enthralled, the show would not seem so endless

and stultifying.

Astonishingly, it is James Barbour, as Rochester, who brings the

freshest

concept to the musical. His is an atypical version of Rochester, who

although tormented by his past, is gentle, elegant, and responsive

to Jane’s hardly disguised feelings. Barbour may not be Bronte’s idea

of Rochester, but with everyone else looking like they’ve spent more

than enough time catering to that crazy lady locked in the attic,

he’s a welcome sight, a dashing figure. What comic relief there is,

is given to Mary Stout (seen in Polly Pen’s "Night Governess"

last year at McCarter Theater) as the ever-jocular housekeeper. But

for the biggest laugh of the evening, we all have to wait for the

team’s lackluster effort to show us the mansion in flames. Two stars.

— Simon Saltzman

Jane Eyre, Brooks Atkinson Theater, 256 West 47 Street,

New York, 212-307-4100. $45 to $80.

The key: Four stars, Don’t miss; Three stars, You won’t feel

cheated; Two stars, Maybe you should have stayed home; One star,

Don’t blame us.


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