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`EYRE’ GAINS SPLENDID MUSICAL ADAPTATION

SHARE `EYRE’ GAINS SPLENDID MUSICAL ADAPTATION

Now you can add "Jane Eyre: The Musical" to your list of recent "made-in-Utah" productions that could draw more national attention to the state's theater community.

Playwright/lyricist Patricia Youkstetter and composer Jerry Williams have adapted Charlotte Bronte's classic tale and succeeded in turning it into a Broadway-caliber musical.Over the past few months, the buzzword I'd been hearing was that "Jane Eyre" had a score that was just as beautiful and powerful as "Les Miserables." And the cynical side of me would mumble, "Yeah, right. I've heard this before."

Well, the curtain officially rose on "Jane Eyre: The Musical" Thursday night - and while it's still a "work-in-progress," combined with the usual opening-night rough edges - I left the Hale Center Theater convinced that this production could, indeed, "go places."

The book and its many film versions are fairly dark and somber. The story is, basically, a gothic romance involving a young girl who has survived an abusive childhood and the man who employs her as a governess at Thornwood Hall. Both the man and the mansion harbor dark, mysterious secrets.

Collaborators Youkstetter and Williams have created a dramatic musical and managed to lighten things up a bit, too, with some nice comedic touches. The playful kitchen staff frolicking behind the scenes and the hilariously foppish Theodore, one of the guests at an elegant ball toward the end of Act One, add some necessary comic relief to the show.

Youkstetter's lyrics are both poetic and biting, capturing the spirit of the beloved Bronte novel. And Williams' score adds its own powerful musical richness, with taped orchestrations that are as good as anything today on Broadway.

Directing a brand new, unknown production must be one of the most difficult of all theater tasks, an assignment fraught with last-minute script changes and other assorted problems. But John Adams, long regarded as one of the region's best directors, has mounted an exceptionally polished production.

His two leading performers - Roweena Greenwood and Mark Gollaher - fall easily into the "as good as it gets" category.

If Daniel Day-Lewis could sing . . . you'd have Mark Gollaher. He is Edward Rochester, the brooding lord of Thornfield Hall, imbuing the role with an emotional depth and richness rarely seen or heard on local stages.

And Greenwood is perfectly cast as Jane Eyre - somewhat plain on the surface, but full of goodness and charity tempered with a strong sense of survival.

While the ensemble roles are double-cast (with one exception), Gollaher and Greenwood will be appearing in most of the show's performances. Mark Dietlein and Patty Youkstetter will alternate with them only occasionally.

The cast list on the production's playbill also looks rather intimidating, with 38 specific parts, but many of these are taken by actors who have two or three roles.

There were some definite standouts in the performance I attended, including Tamara Adams as Annie, the head scullery maid; Bryan Jacobs as boisterous John, who chases her around the kitchen; Kevin Gollaher as the foppish Theodore, who taunts and teases Jane during the ballroom scene; David Mitchell as Brocklehurst, the mean administrator of Lowood School (these days, it would certainly be closed down for child abuse and other infractions); Kim Stone as the mysteriously reclusive Grace Pool; Debe Pitts as sophisticated Blanche Ingram, and Mike Farrell as St. John Rivers (both casts), who fails to convince Jane Eyre she should become a dutiful "Missionary Wife."

There were a couple of minor problems on opening night. The "Prosperity Has a Price" scene, when the kitchen staff pokes fun at the aristocracy, runs far too long. And the sequence in Scene 1, where Jane ages from 10 to 14 to fully grown, was a tad awkward. The concept itself (having three actresses quickly rotate through) worked OK, but the 14-year-old Jane was nearly as tall as the grown-up Jane.

Scott Michelson's costumes are, by and large, right on target, ranging from a plain dowdy dress for Jane to rich-looking jackets for Rochester and dozens of costumes and wigs for the ensemble.

Choreographer Marilyn May Montgomery continues to work minor terpsichoreal miracles on the Hale Center Theater's postage stamp-size stage, maneuvering dancers around and about the kitchen and the ballroom.

Set designer Bryan P. Jacobs (who also performs in the ensemble) has covered the walls of the theater with red brocade wallpaper and dozens of examples of period artwork along with sections of gray rock, to give the room a gothic look. The centerpiece of Jacobs' scenery is a circular mural on the floor - artistic metaphors for various facets of the drama unfolding on stage.

The work by others behind the scenes - musical director Jennifer O'Haley, assistant directors Tammy Eves and Christopher Strong, lighting designer Cody Swenson and sound designer Andrew Nielsen - also added to the professional look of the show.

- BENEFIT PERFORMANCE: A special fund-raiser is scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 10, at noon, when all proceeds from a performance of HCT's "Jane Eyre: The Musical" will be donated to the Dystonia Foundation of Utah. The benefit performance is being held in honor of the late Nathan Hale, HCT founder, whose grandson, Chad, has dystonia. Call 484-9257 for details.