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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
back for the Paper Mill Playhouse, this newest version not only
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
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
One of main problems with the show is the scenic design by John
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
eye-strain that may, at best, save the producers a few thousand
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
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
Astonishingly, it is James Barbour, as Rochester, who brings the
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
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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