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Friday, November 11, 2005

Wow... it's true... (ie, Jane Eyre at the Royal Alexandra Theatre in Toronto).

Yes, another post about Jane Eyre the Musical. I have finally been able to download the three CDs of demos and performance audio from its early days. And, well, I think I will be busy for quite a while, despite any notions the U of T might have against studying musicals- I defy them! So there. Besides, I already have spent a year on this. And what a year it has been- very strange indeed. I'm not truly someone who is terribly fond of musicals. I don't follow them, I have never been to a Broadway show. I do enjoy some of them, but it isn't something I normally indulge in- I'm certainly more inclined towards classical music. But this show is different. I think I found out about it when I mentioned in my personal blog how much I enjoy Jane Eyre. A new friend of mine then asked if I had heard of the show. I said something about how I knew of it, and that I should go and see it some day- thinking it was still playing in Toronto! ...When it closed there nearly 10 years ago. She directed me to this website, and so it began.

I believe all musicals tend to go through a wild, chaotic journey on their way to the big stages of the world. It is also my understanding that they never stop changing. Each venue alters, even the most seemingly perfected shows. Again, this show is different... it changed drastically, and often. That first conversation about the show laid the groundwork in my mind for viewing the different versions: the earliest- Toronto- was "like a musical version of a BBC drama" while Broadway was far less comprehensive in scope. This is a positive way to view it. I've read many of the reviews, which tend to be extremely negative: the dense, vibrant Toronto show was nominated 'bloated' and critics complained that it seemed to include 'everything from the novel'. many others simply didn't like Jane Eyre to begin with, and criticised the show on that ground.

I am meandering a little. What I wanted to say is that, now that I have heard most of these early drafts, I guess they ought to be called, I have to agree: it is like a musical BBC drama. In fact, it is better than most dramas, which is remarkable. How difficult it is to compress the novel into a 3 hour production is one thing, but how about with the demands of a live audience and staging concerns? I would think it would be a nightmare, an impossibility. But, it worked... splendidly. More than once! I have far too much to comment on at the moment, but there are a few things I would like to note now, about the Toronto production (with Marla Schaffel as Jane Eyre and Anthony Crivello as Edward Rochester):

The scenes concerning Jane's youth are excellent. It is a shame that these were seriously compressed in the later versions. The pacing is just right, while covering everything it seems: Jane sings of her reading in Bewick's before the Reeds come in, taunt her for being: ugly, poor, dependent, and ungrateful. John strikes her, she fights back and is thrust into the Red Room where she is haunted by fears. Julia Severn is singled out at Lowood- only the second time, in the history of such adaptations I think. There are problems- mostly with sections at Thornfield. By comparison with her earlier life, and her time with the Rivers', Jane's relationship with Rochester is rushed. It also seems like Orson Welles was a model for this early conception of his character- his appearances and lines sometimes are accompanied by loud, rumbling, dramatic cues.

Listen to the Gateshead scene here.

Probably the most surprising element of the production, at least from an audio point of view since this is all I have to go on, is the inclusion of John Eyre as a speaking character. After Jane reads his letter, we hear- at least- him singing:

John Eyre:
I had a dream of a child;
tossed in the world, bereft and alone.
I wish to share with this child
the life that I've lived, the fortune I own.
And now, in my twilight years, I long to see her face...

Listen to this scene here.

Several moments made me smile, or surprised me. Mr Rochester's first entrance at Thornfield was delightful. It recalled the passage where Mrs Fairfax explains that they always keep the house in readiness because she had 'observed' that Mr Rochester was 'put out' to find the house swathed up, and a bustle of activity when he arrives. Well... now we get to see what Mr Rochester is like when 'put out':

Mrs. Fairfax:
The master is coming! Quick, air out his room!
Send for the steward, the butler, the groom!
Must I do everything by myself?
[...]open the [sluice?]
the longer he waits, the [...] the excuse!
[...] don't you know?
Look for Adella and see that she's dressed!
Get her out of her pinafore, into her best!
Send for the baker, [...]
Must I do everything by myself-

Mr Rochester: *with byronic fanfare*
WHAT FATE WAS IT MADE ME RETURN to pace this [...] miserable place?
I could be in Paris, or-

And then, I believe, the partially deaf Mrs Fairfax assures him about finding him some pheasant for supper while he tries to get her to understand that he hates pheasant. It is futile. I wonder if she has gone deaf from the dramatic music? But it ends on a subdued, comic note:

Mrs Fairfax:
[...] Just leave it to me-
I see you appear to have injured your knee!

Mr Rochester: ...My ankle, woman.

Listen to this scene here. Be sure to go to Paul Gordon's website here to hear his latest work!

Another favourite scene of mine... 'why the deuce should you journey so far? What good could it do her?'

ETA: And here is you may listen to the scene with Julia Severn.

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