Jane Eyre the Musical, Like Its Namesake, Reaches for a Brighter Future

By Kenneth Jones
18 Aug 2007

Jane Eyre Composer Paul Gordon
Jane Eyre Composer Paul Gordon

Jane Eyre, the 2000-01 Broadway musical by composer-lyricist Paul Gordon and librettist John Caird, is getting a serious "re-think" by the authors, who aim to make a chamber version of what was previously seen as a 22-actor, large-set epic.

Songwriter Gordon told Playbill.com that he and Caird (of Les Miserables fame) have been huddling with director Rob Ruggiero (Ella, William Finn's Make Me a Song) about getting back to the essence of the novel by Charlotte Bronte — and the essence of what the collaborators created in earlier versions of the show, prior to Broadway.

Gordon said he and Caird are seeking to restore some song and book elements of the pre-Broadway Toronto version of the musical. For starters, they want to sharpen the narrative point of view so Jane is telling her own story, rather than the ensemble taking over that device. Some recitative between brooding Rochester and governess Jane will likely return, too, as will an important melodic section that linked Jane's mother to the future, Gordon said.

Caird and Gordon will meet this fall to hammer out a new 10-actor version of the show that would require perhaps five musicians. Gordon said the largeness of the Broadway production necessitated adding some fat into the writing that isn't necessary.



Gordon and Caird's goals now are "tweaking, shortening and clipping" and then presenting a version to Ruggiero for further collaboration. Hartford-based Ruggiero is the in-demand regional director who works all over the country (his next gig is staging 1776 for Goodspeed Musicals, followed by a New York mounting of the William Finn revue, Make Me a Song, a hit in Hartford).

Ruggiero told Playbill.com he's in discussions with regional theatres about giving fresh life to the "new" Jane Eyre in 2008-09.

The Broadway version of Jane Eyre is licensed through Music Theatre International and has had almost 90 North American productions since 2002, according to MTI. Its first post-Broadway staging was at TheatreWorks in Palo Alto, CA, where Gordon's Emma, based on the novel by Jane Austen, is getting its world premiere Aug. 22. Gordon penned book, music and lyrics for it.

Jane Eyre has had a winding journey, not unlike the character herself — the show was seen in many readings; a Wichita, KS, staging; a La Jolla Playhouse run; a production at the Royal Alexandra Theatre in Toronto; and on Broadway, where it snagged Tony Award nominations for Best Musical, Best Score, Best Book, Best Lighting Design and Best Actress in a Musical for Marla Schaffel as the unglamorous orphan/governess/romantic figure/mistress of the house.

"Since Broadway," Gordon told Playbill.com, "I don't think I've ever stopped rewriting Jane Eyre. "John and I always imagined it as a more intimate experience..."

On the road to Broadway, there was a push — for better or worse — to make the 19th-century gothic romance bigger, better and shinier. "It lost that intimate feel," Gordon said.

Will the re-tooled Jane Eyre be spare, lean and actor-driven?

"Rob has interesting ideas about how to move the storytelling along," Gordon said.

For now, for the writers, it's about experimentation and exploration.

Gordon said, "We're going to look at every inch of the show. John calls it a 're-think.'"

For more about Paul Gordon's Emma at TheatreWorks in California, visit www.theatreworks.org.

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An evening of Paul Gordon's songs will be heard 9:30 PM Oct. 15 at Joe's Pub at The Public Theater complex on Lafayette in Manhattan. Singers will include Brian d'Arcy James, Marla Schaffel, Kate Reinders and more.