The Internet Theater Magazine of Reviews, Features, Annotated Listings

SEARCH CurtainUp




NEWS (Etcetera)  

(with Amazon search)

DC (Washington)  
Los Angeles 




Free Updates  
Type too small?  
NYC Weather  


A CurtainUp A CurtainUp LA Review
Jane Eyre

By Jack Holland

Jane Eyre, the musical. It may sound a bit strange to people who know the novel or have seen the movie but as it turns out, it doesn't seem to have been a bad idea. Although not perfect and a bit long at points, this musical is entertaining.

Paul Gordon, songwriter and lyricist, got the idea in 1991 after picking up a paperback version of the novel to read on a flight. He sent a demo of songs to John Caird, whom he had admired but never met. John Caird along with set designer John Napier, have had a long history together. Jane Eyre marks their seventh theatrical collaboration. Their six previous collaborations were for the Royal Shakespeare Company (Nicholas Nickleby, Les Miserables, The Merry Wives of Windsor) and the Royal National Theatre (Peter Pan, Trelawny of the 'Wells,' Candide).

An initial workshop of the material occurred at Manhattan Theatre Club in 1995 and there was a full work-in-progress workshop production at the Centre Theatre in Wichita, Kansas in 1996. The musical had its world premiere at the Royal Alexandra Theatre in Toronto, Canada in late 1996.

Moving from Toronto to La Jolla, the cast size has been reduced from 30 to 19. The musical has also been taken further away from a strict translation of the novel. Three new songs have been added and much of the musical underscoring has been removed.

Judging from the current production these were good choices and additional similar choices should be thought about. The show is filled with wonderful music, set design, and lighting. However, the challenges in adapting this story written for a nineteenth century audience of leisurely readers for the dramatic stage are readily apparent. The musical's story is wandering and long winded.

Another problem which crops up from time to time stems from the first person narration. Jane will sometimes speak to the audience of her experiences and while she's still on stage another actor will take over the narration, still in the first person. Sometimes the other actor is male and sometimes the narration is handed off to several actors in one scene. This confuses a bit at first and after a while becomes a distracting annoyance.

The emotional high points of the story work well even though much of it is overwhelmed by other aspects of the production. Fantastic set design and lighting techniques give some moments an air of importance when none is needed. Consequently, attention is often diverted to flying windows and spinning set pieces and away from the action.

The talented cast is full of strong performances. The lead, Marla Schaffel, brings a beautiful voice and a commanding stage presence to Jane Eyre. She carries the musical even through the aforementioned slow points with a strength that only a first class performer is able to achieve.

James Barbour is Edward Rochester (the love interest for those of you unfamiliar with the story). Mr. Barbour's performance makes up for any preconceived notions for a hard-edged lead. Mr. Barbour brings enough poise and technical ability to this softer, gentler Edward Rochester to make an entertaining partner to Ms. Schaffel's Jane.

Elizabeth Degrazia in the role of Blanche Ingram is the show's brightest spark. On stage for what seems to be a very short period time her presence brings a whole new dynamic to the stage. This gifted singer and accomplished actress is a pleasure for both eye and ear..

Mary Stout as Rochester's housekeeper, Mrs. Fairfax, adds a much appreciated bit of comic relief which is well appreciated. Her liveliness and expressive style are well suited to her role.

Co-director John Caird and set designer John Napier previously won two Tony awards for Les Miserables and Nicholas Nickleby. Costume designer Andreane Neofitou also collaborated with Mr. Caird and Mr. Napier on Les Miserables and garnered a Tony nomination. Lighting designer Chris Parry, a Tony award winner for the Who's Tommy has also collaborated with Mr. Caird. Jane Eyre, while not perfect, adds another enteertaining pearl to their string of successes.

Book and Additional Lyrics by John Caird
Music and Lyrics by Paul Gordon
Directed by John Caird and Scott Schwartz
Based on the novel by Charlotte Bronte
With Anne Allgood, Nell Balaban, James Barbour, Lauren Campbell,
Elizabeth DeGrazia, Bruce Dow, Megan Drew, Kelly Felthous, Marguerite MacIntyre,
Bill Nolte, Jayne Paterson, Don Richard, Tiffany Scarritt, Marla Schaffel, Joelle Shapiro,
Mary Stout, Rachel Ulanet, Christopher Yates, Lee Zarrett Music Direction:Steven Tyler
Orchestrations: Larry Hochman
Incidental Music and Vocal Arrangements: Steven Tyler
Set Design: John Napier
Costume Design: Andreane Neofitou
Lighting Design: Chris Parry
Sound Design : Tom Clark and Mark Menard
Production Stage Manager: Lori M. Doyle
Assistant Stage Managers: Kimberly Fisk, Michael Sisolak Associate Set Designer: Keith Gonzales
Associate Costume Designer: Dione Lebhar
La Jolla Playhouse P.O. Box 12039 La Jolla, CA 92039 858-550-1010
7/14/99-8/29/99;opened 7/25/99
Reviewed by Jack Holland based on 7/25/99 performance

©Copyright 1999, Elyse Sommer, CurtainUp.
Information from this site may not be reproduced in print or online without specific permission from