By Kenneth Jones
10 Jun 2001
Despite a handful of major Tony Award nominations and a Drama Desk Award for Marla Schaffel in the title role, the Broadway musical, Jane Eyre, ends its journey on Broadway June 10.
It was previously announced that May 20 would be the close date for the financially struggling show by composer-lyricist Paul Gordon and librettist-director John Caird, but songwriter Alanis Morrisette infused the show with $150,000 to keep it running another week, during the crucial Tony Award voting period, and producers were able to keep the show going even longer, through the Tony Awards June 3. Although is received five noms, including Best Score, Best Musical and Best Actress, the show went home empty handed and producers announced the June 10 shuttering.
(Following Tony losses, A Class Act and Bells Are Ringing also announced they would shutter June 10).
The Charlotte Bronte-based show will have played 36 previews and 210 regular performances. The final performance is 3 PM June 10 at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre. Schaffel moves directly into rehearsals for the new Gershwin musical, They All Laughed!, beginning world premiere performances June 29 at Goodspeed Opera House.
Although it disappears on stage June 10, Jane Eyre was preserved for the ages on June 8, when it was videotaped for archival purposes.
The tuner by librettist, co-director and co-lyricist John Caird and composer-lyricist Paul Gordon struggled for an audience but did find a loyal following among enthusiastic returnees who were dubbed "Eyre Heads."
Lead producer Annette Niemtzow told Playbill On-Line May 16 the losses have been high, but she expects to partner with other producers and announce a tour in the future, using some elements of the scenic design but not the complicated, multi-ton scenic carousel that creates the mysterious atmosphere of the staging (using screens and projections). Niemtzow also said she hopes Jane Eyre will find a home in London. The original novel is a United Kingdom treasure.
Niemtzow admitted the show suffered from a perception that it was theatrical "spinach" — that is was "good for you" rather than being delicious. She said that potential ticketbuyers who were male may have been put off by the subject matter, although the men who did take the risk were cheering and sobbing at the curtain with the women in the house.
Critics groused that the age of the British pop opera was over and dismissed the show (though some scribes embraced it). Stylistically, the show does recall the megahit, Les Miserables, which Caird co created.
Jane Eyre, starring Marla Schaffel, James Barbour and Mary Stout, retold the gothic romantic story first read in the novel by Charlotte Bronte. The story concerns a plain governess drawn into the tormented world of Edward Rochester, a man with secrets.
The show was Tony nommed for Best Musical, Best Actress in a Musical (Schaffel), Best Score (Gordon and co-lyricist Caird), Best Lighting Design (Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer), Best Book (Caird). Previews began Nov. 8, 2000, with an opening of Dec. 10. A cast album was released Nov. 21, before performances began. The Modern Library re-released a Broadway tie-in edition of the novel in 2000.
During the run, the denizens of the alternately dark and lushly romantic world of Jane Eyre included Stephen R. Buntrock (as St. John Rivers, the man who helps the title heroine find her way back to true love), Stout (as quirky house matron Mrs. Fairfax), Nell Balaban (as Grace Poole), Sandy Binion (ensemble), Andrea Bowen (Adele), Bradley Dean (ensemble), Elizabeth DeGrazia (Blanche Ingram), Bruce Dow (Robert), Gina Ferrall (Mrs. Reed), Rita Glynn (ensemble), Gina Lamparella (ensemble), Marguerite MacIntyre (Bertha), Bill Nolte (Richard Mason), Jayne Paterson (Helen Burns), Don Richard (Brocklehurst), Erica Schroeder (ensemble) and Lee Zarrett (John Reed).
Designers are John Napier (set), Andreane Neofitou (costumes), Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer (lighting) and Mark Menard and Tom Clark. Larry Hochman orchestrates, Steven Tyler is musical director and handles vocal and incidental arrangements.
The Broadway producers of Jane Eyre are lead producer Annette Niemtzow (The Kentucky Cycle), producers Janet Robinson, Pam Koslow (Jelly's Last Jam) and Margaret McFeeley Golden, and associate producers Jennifer Manocherian and Carolyn Kim McCarthy. Variety reported the Broadway capitalization as $6.5 million.
Audiences got a visual surprise watching the show. Designer John Napier's conception (along with co-directors John Caird and Scott Schwartz) for the new musical has Jane's world appear around her via projections on a series of screens that rise and fall around her. A massive carousel above the stage spins and drops black screens that catch lighting and images, creating ever shifting scenes and perspectives.
Everything from windows to moonlit clouds to wallpaper patterns to sunny gardens are created in the 2-hour-45-minute production in which English orphan Jane Eyre grows to become a governess at Thornfield Hall — and falls in love with the troubled master of the estate.
Previews began Nov. 9, 2000, after a two-day delay that accommodated refinements in the complicated scenic design, which also uses turntables on the stage. At several points in the show, the shifting floor and descending screens, doused in light, create the effect of a hallway, making the world even more fluid and dimensional. Due to the technical issues, the official opening night of the show was moved from Dec. 3 to Dec. 10.
Caird, who co-adapted and co-directed Nicholas Nickleby and Les Miserables, adapted the classic 1847 Charlotte Bronte novel and also contributed lyrics. The project has been around for five years, going through rewrites and changes since first seen in a formative production in Wichita, KS. It was also seen in 1996 at the Royal Alexandra Theatre in Toronto (produced by the Mirvishes) and, after script and score refinements, at the La Jolla Playhouse in summer 1999, where it was a smash audience favorite. Leads Marla Schaffel (as Jane), James Barbour (as Rochester) and Mary Stout (as Mrs. Fairfax) are holdovers from La Jolla. Schaffel has been attached to the show for six years.
Songs from the show include "The Orphan," "Children of God," "Forgiveness," "The Graveyard," "Sweet Liberty," "Secrets of the House," "Perfectly Nice," "As Good As You," "Secret Soul," "Finer Things," "The Pledge," "Sirens," "Things Beyond This Earth," "Painting Her Portrait," In the Light of the Virgin Morning," "The Gypsy," "The Proposal," "A Slip of a Girl," "Sirens" (reprise), "Farewell, Good Angel," "My Maker," "Rain," "The Voice Across the Moors," "Poor Sister," "Brave Enough for Love."
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." Caird's recent London staging of Candide was hailed a fresh adaptation of Leonard Bernstein's problematic classic.
Caird has said the show is now more like a book musical and less like a so-called pop opera. In a summer 2000 Playbill On-Line interview with co-director and librettist Caird, he said the changes since Toronto were not "fundamental," but "in many peripheral ways, I think it's changed."
He said, "The story's the same but it has changed in that it's a lot smaller cast. We sort of grew too large in Toronto largely because we were in a very big theatre and we had a very large ensemble — a lot of people who weren't really necessary to the story. We gave ourselves the challenge of shrinking down to something more like a chamber musical rather than a mega blockbuster."
In Toronto, audiences saw a gloomy and looming scenic design, but the creative team lightened up the show's visual elements since then, according to Caird.
"The set's completely different," Caird said. "That is radically different. We decided we would lose the idea of having a sort permanent storytelling environment in which everything was more or less the same, and go for a completely different system, which is a black box idea which we'd fill with scenic devices whenever they're necessary. It's actually very colorful. It's against a black background, like Les Miz, but it's intensely colorful when we need it to be."
He added, "It's a clean space into which we bring the important scenic elements. The only thing that moves in space in Les Miz is people, other than when the barricades come on and a few bits of furniture. But in Jane Eyre we've got a very cunning scenic device that allows us to deliver particular objects into the space — windows, doors, bits of furniture — as [designer] John Napier calls them, 'intensely jewel-like images.' [They are] chartered into the space by a device that is actually quite revolutionary, that allows us to fly things through the air in three different dimensions. It's very beautiful. The effect we're trying for is like a Chagall painting, where the objects fly together to make sense once they've arrived."