Melodic Jane
By T.E. Forman - The Press-Enterprise - August 25, 2000

A musical version of "Jane Eyre"? It seems like a daunting project for a brand new theater company, WhiteRose Productions. Charlotte Bronte's novel is a classic, but one with such a broad range of character and such a wide range of experiences that anyone seeking to adapt it to the stage, let alone insert words and music, might well throw up his - or in this case their - hands and settle for simpler - "The Fantasticks," perhaps.


But Rebecca Thompson and Kari Skousen, who wrote the book and lyrics, and Bill Kilpatrick, who composed and arranged the music, have met the challenge triumphantly.


They capture the essence of Bronte's story of a young woman who grows up amid hardships, is heartbroken in love, almost perishes from cold and hunger but then emerges triumphant and happy, having been true to her ideals. To do so, Thompson and Skousen have had to trim a great deal of Bronte's verbiage - those long speeches the novel's readers are tempted to skip. But they have not sacrificed any of Bronte's intelligent characterizations or important plot points.


The story moves smoothly, from Jane's early life with a hard-hearted aunt through her equally harsh experiences at school, her emergence as governess for a bright young girl under a seemingly harsh, unfeeling master and then her growing romance with that master, Edward Rochester, its tragic dissolution and eventual happy ending.


It makes for a long evening, almost four hours, which could be shortened be trimming some lengthy song/speeches and reprises, although the songs are all literate and melodic.


Directed by Craig Duke, the cast of more than 50 adults and children perform with uniform excellence.


In the title role, Liz McAvoy conveys Jane's defiant spirit under her meek submissiveness and sings strongly and sweetly, as does Tara Miller as the Young Jane.


Eric Anderson, a professional actor-singer, is a strong and compelling Rochester, with a splendid baritone voice and a commendable understanding of Rochester's irony. He also has a compelling scene as a supposed gypsy fortune teller.
Among the many other excellent characterizations, Jason Maddy plays the minister, St. John Rivers, who rescues Jane from freezing and starvation. When she has recovered, he tried to persuade her to marry him and join him as a missionary to India.


Molly Brown is dislikeable as Jane's Aunt Reed, as is Don Vecchione as the hard-hearted schoolmaster, Mr. Brocklehurst. Allyse Smith is moving as Jane's school friend, Helen Burns. Cesaria Hernandez plays the beautiful Blanche Ingram, who seems destined to wed Rochester. Chasey Curry is charming as Rochester's Ward, Adele, and a multitude of others play Bronte's many characters, doubling and tripling roles.


An effective use of staging has the fire that consumed Rochester's mansion and brought the death of his insane wife played silently behind a scrim, while Jane and Rivers on the front stage are arguing about her marrying him.