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THEATER | THEATER REVIEW

Out of Sync

'Jane Eyre' lead lacks star quality while synthesizer music clashes with the tale's 19th century charm.

March 06, 1997|ROBERT KOEHLER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The romantic excesses of Charlotte Bronte's "Jane Eyre," like sister Emily's "Wuthering Heights," would seem to fit naturally into a musical scheme. And for awhile in an adaptation of "Jane Eyre"--receiving its West Coast premiere at the Glendale Centre Theatre--it seems right to set the narrative's emotions to music.

Just not this music. Nor with this cast.

The theater's arena-style setup allows no space for a live orchestra, which severely harms directors Brenda and Tim Dietlin's production. The music, composed by Jerry Williams, is doubly distorted by tape and synthesizer, resulting in a terribly anachronistic clash with the 19th century charm and tragedy of Patricia Youkstetter's book. Williams doesn't help his cause, either: His songs too often derive from the feel-good pop sensibilities of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Alan Menken.

Youkstetter fares better, managing to squeeze the novel's rambling story into two acts without draining it of its passion. The book rarely loses focus on Jane (Jann Bromberg) and her troubled relationship with her employer Rochester (Robert David James), and doesn't allow Bronte's other subplots to meddle with the course of the couple's slowly gestating love affair. (This play is, nevertheless, a long sit at two hours and 45 minutes.)

We just can't see what this Rochester sees in this Jane. Bromberg has the chilly propriety of young Julie Andrews, but without the voice. She simply can't negotiate the score's higher registers, notably at those crucial moments when the show aims for emotional resonance. Bromberg's Jane is the kind of pleasant but unremarkable woman who would blend into the background of a manor's staff. This isn't what Bronte intended, nor what the show needs.

James nearly overcompensates at times with a robust, excessive Rochester, but at least we understand the man's wounded heart. Don Woodruff provides some comic relief as the butler, but otherwise the cast's British dialects come and go and there's more play-acting on view than acting. Choreographer Lee Martino sometimes has too many dancers to fit on the stage, but costumer Debbie Gluck's duds fit everyone beautifully.

In a curious side note, another "Jane Eyre" musical by different authors is scheduled for Broadway later this year, virtually guaranteeing a brief shelf life for the Youkstetter-Williams version.

BE THERE

"Jane Eyre" at Glendale Centre Theatre, 324 N. Orange St., Glendale. Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 p.m. through April 12. $13.50-$16. (818) 244-8481.

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