THEATER REVIEW: “Jane Eyre” @ Cleveland Musical Theatre by Roy Berko



Thu 8/30-Sun 9/9

Charlotte Brontë’s novel Jane Eyre is a gothic melodrama which centers on strong-minded Jane’s cruel treatment by her sadistic cousin and aunt, being shipped off to jail-like boarding school, departing to become a nanny for the ward of the wealthy but psychologically tortured Edward Fairfax with whom she falls in love, and the resulting angst of secrets revealed.

When the musical Jane Eyre opened on Broadway in 2000, it was classified, along with the likes of Phantom of the Opera and Jekyll and Hyde, as being a “tragic-poetic musical drama.” It was, as were the others, based on an important epic tale, dark in mood and staging, had big sets, and featured lush, over-drawn orchestrations. In spite of being credited with having a “luxuriant score, haunting and memorable music, crisp and intelligent lyrics,” the Broadway show ran for only 209 performances.

Most reviewers agreed, as was also the case with the other tragic-poetic musicals, that it were overstaged. Phantom was noted for the crashing chandelier and rowboat floating across the stage, Jekyll and Hyde for the “two people in one” physical switches and Jekyll ending his life by impaling himself on a swordstick. These shows were noted for too many performers and too much emphasis on sets and costumes, which visually drowned out the tale itself and the impact of the music.

Along came Miles Sternfeld, artistic director of Cleveland Musical Theatre, “a nonprofit professional theater company that produces newly developed and re-imagined musical theater, featuring Broadway and Cleveland artists with emerging talent. Sternfeld felt that many of the problems with Jane Eyre could be fixed by shrinking the production, reexamining the score, and reimagining some of the book.

In most ways, as evidenced in the well-directed, perfectly cast, beautifully choreographed, and impressively scored music, Sternfeld was right. The CTP’s Jane Eyre is special.

Gabriel Firestone’s simple, ever-changing set, focuses the action into a compressed proscenium within proscenium, forcing the audience to focus on the actions. Simplifying the set even more and depending more on subtle electronic graphics would help. Benjamin Gantose’s dark lighting and Sydney Gallas’s period-appropriate costumes enhanced the somber mood.

The talented cast is both period- and style-correct. Andrea Goss has the right attitude and demeanor for the high-minded Jane, while Matt Bogart transitions beautifully from morbid to caring as Edward. They both have big Broadway voices and sing meanings rather than words, making the vocals carry the story.

The duo is aptly supported by Allison England (Mrs. Reed/Mrs. Fairfax) and Emma McClelland (Young Jane). The rest of the cast (Cody Gerszewski, Lauryn Hobbs, Genny Lis Padilla, Laura Perrotta, Fabio Polanco, Gregory Violand, Sydney Howard, Patrick Mooney, Nina Takacs) is superb, switching into various roles, attitudes and accents with ease.

The musical, without showstoppers, dream ballets or line dances, is greatly enhanced by choreographer Martin Céspedes’ masterful creation of moving tableaus by subtly altering bodily positions and movements to create meaningful stage pictures.

The real star of the production, besides Miles Sternfeld’s sensitive direction, is the musical score. Though it could have used a signature song, such as “The Music of the Night” (Phantom of the Opera) Paul Gordon’s music, with additional lyrics by John Caird, seamlessly carries the message of Caird’s book, placing the instrumental and vocal sounds parallel to the spoken words.

The contributions of Nancy Maier (musical direction), Steven Tyler (additional arrangements), Brad Haak (music supervision/orchestrations), Conor Keelan (associate orchestration) and Alex Berko (music preparation) cannot be overlooked.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT: Jane Eyre in its new form and format is a musical that shows that a “small” production, in which care is taken with directing, casting and technical aspects, can make musical theater more captivating than big, splashy, overproduced shows. With an additional “signature” song, the revised script seems ready for an off-Broadway, small- theater run.

Jane Eyre,” ran Thu 8/3–Sun 9/9 at the Rose and Simon Mandel Theater on the Cuyahoga County East campus.


[Written by Roy Berko, member Cleveland Critics Circle, American Theatre Critics Association]




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