Sweeping musical adaption of ‘Jane Eyre’ to open Thursday at WT
by Chip Chandler — Digital Content Producer
Jane Eyre was a woman ahead of her time – and, perhaps, so was the musical written about her.
The eponymous heroine of Charlotte Brontë’s 1847 novel is a proto-feminist, a woman resisting society’s pressure to marry her off to the first interested man, instead waiting to find someone she considered an equal.
Her story was translated into a musical by Paul Gordon and John Caird that premiered on Broadway in 2000 and, despite Tony nominations and some critical praise, struggled to find an audience.
Its creators have been working on a revised version, but the original version will be staged beginning Thursday – coincidentally, that’s Brontë’s 200th birthday – in the Branding Iron Theatre at West Texas A&M University.
“Jane Eyre” will be staged at 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and April 27 to 30, plus 2:30 p.m. Sunday.
“I think it’s going to be fun,” director Andrew Barratt Lewis said. “It’s definitely in the style of the late ’90s musicals – large, with multiple locations. … It’s got a really beautiful score that’s almost completely sung through.
“It’s really sweeping and a really interesting story, though it’s dark.”
Star Maddie Todd said the score “has the classical musical theatre feel, but it’s also very contemporary.”
Jane, Todd said, isn’t looking for love and never expects to find it.
“It’s nothing that she thought of for herself,” Todd said. “But at the end, she learns to love herself and learns how to love others.”
Her main suitor, Edward Fairfax Rochester (played by Caleb Brink), doesn’t make it easy for her: Not only is he mysterious, curmudgeonly and hard to like, he’s got a secret locked away inside his attic.
“I’m finding his reasons for the way he acts and behaves,” said Brink, adding that the musical makes Rochester’s motives a bit more transparent because it’s not solely told from Jane’s point of view, as the book is.
“The audience gets to see him and his intentions a lot more,” Brink said. “The mystery still exists, but it’s a little easier for the audience to grasp, and it’s definitely fun to play.”
In opening up the story for the stage, Gordon and Caird also added some humor, said Lacy Franklin, who plays Mrs. Fairfax, the housekeeper in Rochester’s Thornfield Hall.
“‘Jane Eyre’ is one of my favorite novels, but the book (Mrs. Fairfax) is not comedic at all. … In the musical … she’s very airy and silly.
“In the book, there’s no comedic relief. It’s just, oh God, what could happen to Jane next?” Franklin said. “It’s a hard one (to read), but I loved it.”
Lewis said the musical largely retains Brontë’s language, even Rochester’s habit of speaking metaphorically – such as his comparison of Jane to a captive bird.
“That’s actually the central image I took for the production,” Lewis said. “Every time she thinks she has escaped, she finds herself in another cage.”
“Jane Eyre” will be staged at 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, 2:30 p.m. Sunday and 7:30 p.m. April 27 to 30 in the Branding Iron Theatre at West Texas A&M University. Tickets are $16 for adults, $12 for seniors and non-WT students and free for WT students, faculty and staff. Call 806-651-2804 or visit www.wtamu.edu/theatre.