OGDEN — The classic love story of Jane Eyre comes to life at Weber State University with an outstanding performance and a powerful cast. Yet beware! This is not a typical love story. There is a spooky twist that will set audiences on edge this Halloween season. With music and lyrics by Paul Gordon and book and additional lyrics by John Caird, this modern musical premiered almost 150 years after the original novel by Charlotte Brontë was published. Yet, the story still has a powerful message that connects to the human spirit. Fans of Charlotte Brontë and newcomers alike will thoroughly enjoy this mysterious musical. Weber State Theatre presents a moving production of Jane Eyre directed by Andrew Barratt Lewis, with music direction by Kenneth Plain and choreography by Francesca Mintowt-Czyz, enhanced with the euphony of a live orchestra.
Jane Eyre takes place in England during the Victoria era. The title character is an orphan who lives with her cruel aunt and young cousin who delights in tormenting her. Jane is sent away to a school for girls, where she is still mistreated, but finds both the power to forgive and a friend in Helen Burns. Jane grows up to be a teacher at the school and then leaves to be a governess at Thornfield Hall. She finds freedom at last and a joyful life as she teaches the young Adele and finds herself falling in love with the master of the house, Mr. Rochester. However, not everything is as it seems at Thornfield Hall. There are mysteries and secrets that Jane has yet to discover before she can find true happiness. Through it all, the show explores how kindness and forgiveness can change lives.
One aspect that makes Jane Eyre such a wonderful story is the character development of the title character and Mr. Rochester. Allie White was a standout success in the role of Jane Eyre with her dynamic and riveting voice, which filled the theatre with energy when she sang “Sweet Liberty.” White had an especially strong performance with her visually distraught acting in “Painting Her Portrait,” creating a powerful moment when Jane’s emotions on edge. White created a lovely character in Jane Eyre that was easy to love and root for. The character’s optimistic spirit and witty banter contrasted with the gloomy feeling of mansion.
Jacob Coates was able to equally deliver a fantastic lead role as Mr. Rochester. Coates was charming, yet wildly unnerved with wide eyed expressions that portrayed the disturbances of his soul. He acted playfully and yet commanding as a young master of a large house. Coates was able to portray believable injuries, as he limped around the stage and later had the unfocused gaze of a blindman. His voice was filled with longing and desire as he sang . Coates and White had great chemistry as they sang “Secret Soul” with a powerful duet that was captivating and satisfying.
Audrey Clark played Young Jane Eyre and Adele. Her youthful acting and visually separate costumes and wigs made these characters come to life as unique and contrasting children. As Young Jane, Clark was downcast and melancholy, while Adele was flippant and carefree. Clark and Jaden Chandie Nandkeshwar (playing the role of Helen Burns) were a great duo as young girls in the school making the best out of a hard situation. Nandkeshwar sang an unforgettable and uplifting song, “Forgivness” with lovely vibrato and hope filled eyes as she taught Young Jane to not be vengeful.
The housekeeper, Mrs. Fairfax, was played by Madison Rigby, who brought the perfect amount of comic relief to the serious and dramatic show. Rigby created a character who was cooky and extremely lovable with her incredible facial expressions and acting. She peevishly buttered bread and waved a butter knife at Jane and coyly sang, “Like a good wine gets better with age.” It was much needed refreshment to have her back on stage in act II singing “Slip of a Girl” as she went through many emotions such as annoyed, petered, and delighted.
The sets, costumes, and lighting contributed to the professional-level quality of the production. Sets designed by Cully Long moved flawlessly around the rotating stage. The moving staircases, doorways, and rooms made the large house of Thornfield Hall seem almost magical. A large silhouette of a chestnut tree filled the backdrop of the stage and was a visual reminder of the theme of change throughout the show. Lighting designer Marley Keith created the right feel for the show at critical moments, such as the moody purple lighting and perfect spotlighting in “The Attic” and the dangerous orange light of the fire in “Return to Thornfield.” An exceptional effect was created as the bed curtains were lit on fire, creating a terrifying fiery scene on stage. Costumes designed by Julie Porter were very fitting to the Victorian era and created visual contrast between the poor and rich characters through fabrics. Yet, the poor characters were still beautifully costumed. For example, Jane’s lower class blue striped dress was still an impressive work of talented sewing with detailing in the sleeve and neckline.
One minor critique would be that the ensemble was not in unison with their vowels as they sang the lyrics, “She suffers in this prison.” Yet, on the whole, the singing was exceptional throughout the show. Another issue is that the script diverges from the book to keep the pacing quick. But I was disappointed in the climax of the show, as it left out a critical haunting scene the night before the wedding. The climax seemed flat and too quickly resolved.
Overall, Weber State University’s production of Jane Eyre was an amazing success. Jane Eyre is the perfect thrill for the Halloween season and a story of love, hope, and faith. Do not delay in seeing this eerie yet fantastic show, as it closes soon. The secrets of Thornfield Hall are waiting to be discovered.