The 'Three-Hanky' Jane Eyre is SRO in CA Thru Sept. 5; NYC is Next

News   The 'Three-Hanky' Jane Eyre is SRO in CA Thru Sept. 5; NYC is Next The Broadway-bound musical version of Jane Eyre, by John Caird and Paul Gordon, is a three-hanky hit in its tryout at the La Jolla Playhouse, producer Annette Niemtzow told Playbill On-Line Sept. 1.
Marla Schaffel as Jane Eyre and James Barbour as Edward Rochester in Jane Eyre.
Marla Schaffel as Jane Eyre and James Barbour as Edward Rochester in Jane Eyre. (Photo by Photo by John Johnson)

The Broadway-bound musical version of Jane Eyre, by John Caird and Paul Gordon, is a three-hanky hit in its tryout at the La Jolla Playhouse, producer Annette Niemtzow told Playbill On-Line Sept. 1.

The final weekend of the California run, part of its one-week extension, is sold out, to Sept. 5, she reported. Standing room tickets are available.

Niemtzow said all the money is in place for its move to Broadway, but the only thing standing in the way of Jane in New York is real estate: When a theatre becomes available, she said, the gothic heroine will sing there. Niemtzow said representatives from the major theatres in Manhattan have come to La Jolla to see the show, and her hope is for a January 2000 move.

Until then, the show's complicated set by John Napier (who was in residence in La Jolla for a month) will be stored until rehearsals and preparation for the New York run. Niemtzow said librettist and director Caird (who also wrote additional lyrics) has been working with songwriter Gordon to strengthen the storytelling, and that the La Jolla run has, as tryouts should, shown the creators what needs to be addressed for the New York production.

"They haven't tweaked it (in La Jolla)," said Niemtzow, "but they know what the tweaking will be." The show is very different, she said, from its 1996 Toronto staging and had changed significantly since its spring 1999 reading in New York City (new songs have been introduced since the New York reading).

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. A secret locked in his attic threatens to destroy all.

Still intact, Niemtzow said, is the emotion of the tale, which prompts tears from theatregoers who can't help but sniffle over a romance in which the heroine finds clarity after years of pain.

Previews began July 13 at the La Jolla Playhouse in coastal La Jolla, CA., near San Diego. Jane Eyre performances were originally going to end Aug. 29.

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The reworked-since-Canada musical opened July 25 with mix of new and previous cast members -- including Toronto holdover Marla Schaffel in the title role -- at the La Jolla Playhouse, birthplace of the recent How to Succeed in Business and Tommy.

The fall 1999 Broadway staging of Jane Eyre will be produced by Annette Niemtzow, Janet Robinson, Pam Koslow, Jennifer Manocherian and Alan Novich, in association with Margaret McFeeley Golden.

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Composer-lyricist Gordon's work has been sung by Bette Midler, Amy Grant, Smokey Robinson, Patti LaBelle and more. He wrote the chart topping songs, "Next Time I Fall" and "Friends and Lovers." Co-director and librettist John Caird (who also wrote additional lyrics for the piece) might be best known for staging Nicholas Nickleby and co-directing and co-adapting Les Miserables. His most recent London staging was a fresh adaptation of Leonard Bernstein's Candide.

The La Jolla cast, expected to be the same for Broadway, is led by James Barbour (Carousel, Beauty and the Beast) as Rochester, Marla Schaffel (a onetime Fantine from Les Miserables) as Jane, Mary Stout as Mrs. Fairfax, and Elizabeth DeGrazia as Blanche. San Diego native Tiffany Scarritt plays Young Jane.

Schaffel has been with the project since it was first seen in Kansas in 1995. She was Jane in Toronto, too.

The La Jolla company also includes Jayne Paterson (Jane's mother), Nell Balaban (Amy), Rachel Ulanet (Louisa), Lee Zarrett (John Reed), Bill Nolte (Mason), Bruce Dow (Robert) and Christopher Yates (Jane's father), all of whom appeared in a workshop reading of the show in New York in February 1999. Others in the La Jolla and Broadway cast are Anne Allgood, Marguerite MacIntyre and Don Richard. MacIntyre had a featured role in the York Theatre's revival of No Way To Treat A Lady, which was directed by Jane Eyre's co-director, Scott Schwartz. Schwartz, who co-stages the piece with librettist and co-lyricist Caird, is the son of composer Stephen Schwartz (Pippin).

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Jane Eyre was previously seen with Schaffel and Anthony Crivello (Kiss of the Spider Woman) in December 1996 at the Royal Alexandra Theatre in Toronto. Holdovers from Toronto currently in La Jolla are Balaban, Elizabeth De Grazia, Dow, Nolte, Richard and Stout.

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 in the workshop that were holdovers 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.

A Toronto cast album had a limited release.

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-production designers recreate their work this year: Set designer John Napier (Sunset Boulevard), costume designer Adreane Neofitou (Miss Saigon) and lighting designer Chris Parry (Tommy). Tom Clark and Mark Menard are sound designers.

Napier has designed a new set, now including three turntables. There are no less than 36 set changes in the production, which follows Jane from childhood to maturity, pain and fulfillment.

The Canadian producers Ed and David Mirvish are no longer involved with the project.

For La Jolla ticket information, call (858) 550-1010.