“JANE EYRE,” through June 4, Hale Center Theater Orem, 225 W. 400 North, Orem (801-226-8600 or haletheater.org); one intermission
OREM — While orphan-turned-governess Jane Eyre is called plain by many of those who encounter her, Hale Center Theater Orem’s rendering of the musical “Jane Eyre,” which runs through June 4, is far from ordinary.
It feels a bit like a darker version of “Beauty and the Beast”: Headstrong and determined, a young woman who’s always dreamed of liberty and adventure finds herself in residence at a gloomy castle full of secrets, where she encounters quirky servants as well as an enigmatic master whose heart she alone seems able to soften. Relationships develop, but challenges both small and seemingly insurmountable arise, and it takes a lot of time and heartache — and many, many songs — before things reach a resolution.
The tale of “Jane Eyre” is simultaneously shadowy and bright, depressing and hopeful. Fans of Charlotte Bronte’s novel by the same name may notice some plot points have been severely altered or removed entirely, but the key elements are there. However, the addition of songs and music to the story change some of its inherent qualities: the overall mood, for one, but also the sense of Jane’s introspectiveness, as she boldly addresses the audience and frequently sings about her feelings.
Regardless of how one feels about the differences from the source material, the performances and staging of this production are simply wonderful.
Elizabeth Dabczynski-Bean, who brings Jane to life in alternating performances (this review features actors of the Monday/Wednesday/Friday cast), delivered a strong performance with a powerful stage presence, nuanced facial expressions and a beautiful voice.
Playing opposite her as Edward Fairfax Rochester is Dallyn Vail Bayles, a member of the Actors’ Equity Association (he performs in the role each night except Tuesdays). Bayles skillfully depicted the many attitudes of his character — commanding yet loving, brooding then playful — his delivery of the Gypsy scene is a highlight — and his voice perfectly complemented that of Dabczynski-Bean.
Emily McKell as Young Jane demonstrated poise as she showed the early formation of Jane’s character, learning at the hands of Ali Fisher’s sweet and ill-fated Helen Burns, whose rendition of “Forgiveness/Willing to Be Brave” was stirring.
Though some of her rapid-fire lines came out a little muddled, Melany M. Wilkins provided dollops of comedy relief in her turn as Mrs. Fairfax, and also adding to the humor was Alicia Pann as a surprisingly silly Blanche Ingram — Jane’s rival in love, who seems much less formidable following her fluting performance of “Finer Things.”
Many members of the ensemble take on multiple characters, and they do so admirably. Notably, Liz Chapman performed well in two unpleasant roles — the mean Miss Scatcherd of Lowood School, and the disturbing and disturbed Bertha Mason; her chilling turn in the latter part may be reason enough to leave the younger kids at home.
HCTO’s small stage makes a cozy home for the production with audience members sitting on three sides. Gorgeous background images projected onto the remaining wall work wonders to set the scenes as well as the mood. Lighting and a smoke machine are likewise used effectively to create different locales, including a church and a room in flames.
Whether one is a fan of Bronte’s work or not, HCTO’s thoughtful and haunting production of “Jane Eyre,” with its breathtaking music and memorable performances, is eminently worthwhile.
Content advisory: Brief mild language, brief violence, mature themes and scenes that may be frightening for younger children.