Thursday, January 14, 2021

review - JANE EYRE, THE MUSICAL - MCC Musical Productions

Austin Stuart and Jessie Jo Pauley
photo by Melody Stuart

by Gil Benbrook

Charlotte Bronte's classic novel "Jane Eyre" has been adapted into dozens of films, TV mini-series and movies so it's somewhat surprising that it took more than 150 years after the novel was published in 1847 before a musical adaptation based on Bronte's work would make it to Broadway. With a book by John Caird and a score by Paul Gordon, the stage musical is a faithful retelling of Bronte's novel, infused with a range of emotions and rich characters. MCC PAC Musical Productions is streaming their filmed stage production of this beautiful and haunting musical and it has lush creative elements and a talented cast, led by Jessie Jo Pauley as Jane and Austin Stuart as Rochester.

Bronte's plot is fairly simple. Jane is a plain yet defiant orphan who takes a job as a governess at Thornfield Hall, where Edward Rochester is the master of the house. Although Rochester is a temperamental and somewhat troubled soul, the two become friends and develop trust and a deep bond with each other, and ultimately fall in love, even though they also have personalities that sometimes clash. However, Rochester has a terrible secret in his past that threatens their love and the possibility of their future, just as it's about to begin. 

Caird's book is brisk yet manages to touch upon the key plot points in Bronte's novel while also using dialogue that is true to the 19th century origins of the book, though some of the plot elements are rushed and could benefit from a bit more clarity. The score by Gordon packs over three dozen songs into the almost through-sung musical, though many are fairly short. Still, the songs are rich and luxurious, with plot and character specific lyrics and there is also an abundance of lush underscoring throughout.

Tregoney Shepherd grew up in Arizona before appearing in National tours and on Broadway and recently took over the role of Artistic Director for Mesa Community College's Musical Theatre department. This is her first production directing since taking over leadership of the department at MCC and her direction is crisp and astute. She makes great use of the expansive MCC PAC stage and ensures her cast all create fairly realistic characters. 

Jessie Jo Pauley and Austin Stuart are simply glorious as Jane and Rochester. Both have rich, refined singing voices that soar on their many songs in the show. Pauley manages to deliver a sophisticated yet subtle portrayal of this beloved character while also allowing us to understand the pain this young woman has faced and the joy she feels once she begins to fall in love with Rochester. Stuart's depiction of this fractured, rash and reckless man is also, appropriately, emotionally complex. 

Due to the briskness of the show's book, many of the supporting characters are only in a scene or two yet the majority of the MCC cast manages to achieve performances that avoid cliché. Hallie Wright is quite touching as the young Jane and Gillian Ficarra is lovely as Helen Burns, the young girl Jane befriends in the orphanage. When the older Jane begins to work at Thornfield Hall, Emily Noxon and Ada Larsen are quite good, as the housekeeper and Adele, the ward of Rochester, respectively, as is Haley McHardy as the woman engaged to Rochester.

The set design by Chris Dane Burk is expansive, with moving pieces that work well to delineate the various locales in the story. Sharon Jones' costumes are gorgeous and period perfect and Melody Stuart's makeup is quite good, including her design in the second act for a character who suffers a tragedy. Jeff A. Davis' lighting is stunning and gorgeous with the excellent use of shadows to elicit the gothic nature of the story. Darin Shryock's music direction achieves warm vocals and lovely harmonies from the large cast. While there isn't a lot of choreography in the show, Cullen Law's contributions are welcome.

While there may be some shortcomings in the book of Jane Eyre, the Musical, due to some moments feeling rushed and some secondary characters disappearing almost as swiftly as they appear, it still manages to be a successful theatrical adaptation of Bronte's beloved novel. MCC Musical Theatre's production is infused with romance and gothic tones, with a cast, direction and creative elements that ensure the heart and emotion of Bronte's novel are never forgotten. 

In accordance with state and local guidelines, MCC's production was filmed with the actors wearing face shields with no physical audience present

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