In the year 2000 this musical opened on Broadway for a relatively short run, kept alive at the end by more than $100,000 of free tickets offered to senior citizens. Yet it was nominated for a number of Tony awards. Only the actress playing Jane won.
Charlotte Brontë’s 1847 Gothic romance novel, on which this musical is based, was groundbreaking. Here was a pre-feminist heroine, a badly treated, unfortunate girl who turned herself into an independent woman, made it on her own, and eventually found love, and made a family. But getting there was an arduous journey, perhaps a bit too complicated and emotionally wrought for this script by John Caird with music by Paul Gordon and lyrics by Gordon and Caird. Despite the two plus hour running time, it doesn’t capture all the plot complications or the symbolism within the story. We’re given snippets.
Especially weak is the attention given to the mad woman in the attic, who is such an essential plot element. There is, however, in this production some strong acting. Art Anderson as Jane’s love interest is quite good. His voice is powerful and pleasant, and he creates a dignified yet poignant Rochester. Pam Nolte is always good playing English spinsters or upper class snobs, and her portrayal here of Mrs. Fairfax is no exception. She provides much of the humor in this mostly dark tale. Jessica Spencer portrays Jane appropriately with minimal make-up, plain hairdo, and dowdy clothes, but despite her fine singing, the script provides her with little spark. The dynamic character of the book is rather colorless here.
Though Edd Key’s musicians played the score well, I found it to be unremarkable. In fairness you should know that the music was nominated for a Tony. I, however, couldn’t remember or hum a single tune on my way out of the theatre.
Director Karen Lund chose this script because she felt it gave the story “a soaring and heroic lightness.” That may be exactly the reason it didn’t work for me. “Jane Eyre” mixed with “Sound of Music” is a poor fit.
Through August 16 at Taproot Theatre, 204 N. 85th St., Seattle (206 781-9707 or www.taproottheatre.org).