The cast of the summer 1999 La Jolla Playhouse production of Jane Eyre performed for a "gentle audience," as they are addressed in composer-lyricist Paul Gordon's musical, for two readings Feb. 19 in New York City.
John Caird, co-director with Scott Schwartz, said after the 4 PM Feb. 19 reading at City Center's fourth floor studio, that the New York workshop was, in effect, the "first week of rehearsal" for the company. The troupe will reunite in June for the La Jolla run in southern California, July 13-Aug. 29. July 25 is the official opening.
Caird (Les Miserables) told the full-house crowd after the 4 PM reading (there was also one at noon) that the ensemble and creators -- Caird co-directed and wrote the book and additional lyrics -- got "courage" and "information" from the workshop process and presentation.
The cast was lead by James Barbour (Carousel, Beauty and the Beast) as Rochester, Marla Schaffel (a onetime Fantine from Les Miserables) as Jane, Anna Kendrick (High Society) as Young Jane, Mary Stout as Mrs. Fairfax, Julia McIlvaine as Helen and Elizabeth DeGrazia as Blanche.
The La Jolla company also includes (and included at the readings): Jayne Paterson, Gina Ferrall, Robin Skye, Alyse Wojciechowski, Nell Balaban, Rachel Ulanet, Lee Zarrett, Bill Nolte, Bruce Dow and Christopher Yates. Schwartz -- whose father, composer Stephen Schwartz (Pippin) was in the audience at the 4 PM reading -- read stage directions while the company performed the entire script, minus physical staging, which was described by Caird or Schwartz. The audience was made up of industry insiders, including those who might be interested in helping Jane make a journey to Broadway after La Jolla.
The show was previously seen with Schaffel and Anthony Crivello in December 1996 at the Royal Alexandra Theare in Toronto. Technically, its world premiere was at the Wichita (KS) Center for the Performing Arts in December 1995. The show's first post-Toronto staging was to be September 1998 at Tennessee Repertory Theatre, but it did not materialize.
Songs that remain from Toronto include: "Deep in My Secret Soul," "I'm Painting a Portrait," "Oh, Sister," "Brave Enough to Love" and "Forgiveness." The convention of having the ensemble separately tell Jane's story in the first person (using the formal "gentle audience" greeting) is a holdover from Toronto, as well.
Jane Eyre is drawn from Charlotte Bronte's 19th-century novel of a plain woman falling in love with the mysterious, secretive Rochester in provincial England.
Insiders suggest this new version of the show is more of a traditional book musical than the sung-through, darkly-designed (by John Napier) production that played the Royal Alex in Toronto. A Toronto cast album had a limited release.
Jane Eyre has long been promised for Broadway but has yet to announce any definitive dates or theatre.
The 1996-97 Toronto production starred Schaffel (a onetime Fantine in Broadway's Les Miz) and Anthony Crivello (Kiss of the Spider Woman) as Rochester.
The Toronto leads played the same roles in the 17-performance world premiere in Wichita, KS, far from the glare of New York media.
The original Canadian designers were scenic designer Napier (Sunset Boulevard), costume designer Adreane Neofitou (Miss Saigon) and lighting designer Chris Parry (Tommy). The Canadian producers Ed and David Mirvish are no longer involved with the project, and have sold the sets and costumes to the La Jolla production, according to a Mirvish spokesman.
The reading's musical director and vocal arranger was Steven Tyler. Larry Hochman is the show's orchestrator, Ann Peters is company manager, casting is by Tara Rubin of Johnson/Liff.