Reviews of the new musical Jane Eyre from the two major Toronto dailies were a study in contrasts. The Broadway-bound musical had its world premiere Dec. 8 at the Royal Alexandra Theatre. Here are samples from the two reviews: * From Geoff Chapman of The Toronto Star It is a thrill from start to finish.
The creators of Jane Eyre have taken the security blanket of the staged novel and made it into a truly grand opera.
The world premiere of this made-in-Canada musical, which opened last night at the Royal Alexandra Theatre and is destined for Broadway next year, is a brilliantly staged production that has the cohesion and clout to move an audience in the manner of Les Miserables.
This fairytale of love and suspense, a sweeping story with universal and timeless themes that don't need ever-more-impressive special effects to catch attention, grips from the start.
. . . This delightful debut. . .can imply a conflagration with light and sound, make you believe live horses are clopping across the stage and convince that a melodramatic, sometimes harrowing and always improbable story makes musical magic. Jane Eyre is a classic case of making the good popular and the popular good.
* From John Coulbourn, The Toronto Sun:
She started life as the prototypical plain Jane, but almost a century and a half after Charlotte Bronte gave literary birth to Jane Eyre, Bronte's less than-lovely girl child has taken to the musical theatre stage with a flourish that is anything but austere.
. . . With a budget in the neighborhood of $6 million, a cast of 30, a songbook pushing 50 numbers, not counting reprises, and a running time mere moments shy of the three-hour mark, this Jane is unquestionably a big girl, with a lot of powerful friends.
Caird himself wears the director's boots, moving the action snappily over a surprisingly subdued set by John Napier, evocatively lit by Chris Parry. There are lush costumes by Andreane Neofitou, great sound by Tom Clark and strong musical direction by Steve Tyler, overseeing orchestrations by Larry Hochman and vocal arrangements by Michael Rafter and Steve Tyler.
There's also a timeless story, one that most of us know by heart, and in his adaptation, Caird has managed to put enough of it up on stage that very few gentle readers are going to find their favorite bits missing.
. . . Along the way, Jane has abdicated the role of narrator assigned by Bronte and turned it over to the rest of the cast, all of whom tackle these duties in an only slightly disconcerting first person singular. . . .In view of the fact that this story was already well and truly told 150 years ago, mere story-telling is little more than illuminated plagiarism - tableau as opposed to theatre.
On the tableau front, Caird and his cast do a fine job of moving through Bronte's tale. But on a theatrical front, Caird's adaptation and Gordon's lyrics fail. They take us through the tale but they fail to take us inside it, to the poor frozen heart of a terrified young orphan.
And unless we touch that heart - and, more importantly, unless that heart touches us - this is just another Jane Doe.
SUN RATING: 3 OUT OF 5