The atmospheric, darkly romantic world of Jane Eyre, the musical, opens Dec. 10 at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre on Broadway, and audiences are in for a visual surprise.
Designer John Napier's conception (along with co-directors John Caird and Scott Schwartz) for the new musical by composer lyricist Paul Gordon is to have 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 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 five years. *
The denizens of the alternately dark and lushly romantic world of Jane Eyre will include 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.
The Broadway cast album of Jane Eyre was recorded Oct. 5-6, a month before a note of the new show was heard on Broadway. The single disc is on the Sony Classical label and was fast-tracked for release Nov. 21 to coincide with the early performances.
Recording a cast album before opening isn't unprecedented. A cast record of Lionel Bart's Oliver! was released before the show reached Broadway, and concept albums preceded Jesus Christ Superstar and Evita. The Jane Eyre disc reflects the most up-to-date version of the score, including tweaks and revisions made since its run at the La Jolla Playhouse. Due to space limitations, some numbers from the show are not included on the single disc.
Tracks 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."
The Modern Library has released "The Official Broadway Edition" of Bronte's "Jane Eyre" Nov. 14, coinciding with the run of the new Broadway musical at the Atkinson.
The 717-page softbound volume's cover reflects the musical's logo and art, which shows Marla Schaffel and James Barbour as Jane and Rochester, respectively, standing by a reflecting pool but not making the passionate connection that the classic novel — and new musical — promises. The English countryside is seen in the background, with a horse running free.
The tie-in book edition is $7.95 and features a new introduction by Diane Johnson, author of "Le Mariage" and "Le Divorce." The easy-read type is larger and cleaner than other editions of the novel from other publishers. The book also includes notes, commentary and discussion questions for reading groups. The book first appeared in 1847 under Bronte's pseudonym Currer Bell. The novel tells of a plain but smart woman — a governess — falling in love with the mysterious, secretive Rochester in provincial England.
The Brooks Atkinson is at 256 W. 47th Street in Manhattan. Tickets range $50-$86 and are also on sale by phone at (212) 307-4100.