Jane Eyre, The Musical, At The Lake Country Playhouse

I read Charlotte Bronte’s novel Jane Eyre in eighth grade. I know that I enjoyed it. But that was just over sixty years ago. So at a stratospheric level I have some memory of the story line…but the details have been lost in the mist. So I was eager to see how much of the story would return to me while watching the Lake Country Players present Jane Eyre, The Musical. Or even more in question was, how can a musical present the whole story? Well, my friends, the hardest working stage in the lake country delivered and delivered…and Jane Eyre fans won’t miss out on any of their favorite characters or any of their cherished plot lines!

Paige Lombardi as Young Jane, Emily Keiner as Jane Eyre, and Jaela Landowski as a schoolgirl. Photo courtesy of Lake Country Players, Photographer: Breanne Brennan

Playwrights John Caird (book and lyrics) and Paul Gordon (music and lyrics) have indeed provided us with the complete story of Jane Eyre (yes,yes, I know some small events had to be glossed over or skipped to fit the story into a musical) but they also very wisely maintained the first person feel of the presentation in the grand atmosphere created by Charlotte Bronte in the novel. So many of Jane’s recitations or asides to the audience are spoken by members of the ensemble in rapid succession as we watch Jane assimilate the situation she finds herself in at that particular moment. And yes it is a large and very skilled ensemble playing multiple roles, as 28 actors present the story through 2 acts and 39 songs! And as I mentioned, LCP’s hardest working stage? The actors also completed dozens of set changes that keep our heads spinning and well as Jane’s. Director Breanne Brennan, choreographer Thom Cauley, and stage manager Ashley Williams have created a mystery of fluidity on stage as the story and music proceed apace! At one point I think I saw 25 people on the stage for one of the late play ensemble numbers.

And we have two Jane Eyre’s! Paige Lombardi exhibits the youthful exuberance of a young girl but already has the drive and moxy that the adult Jane is going to need. Particularly moving is her interaction with cousin John Reed and her aunt Mrs. Reed that results in her exile to Lowood Institution. And there are a number of transitional pieces in the musical where she appears with Emily Keiner as our adult Jane that illustrate the bridge from youthful Jane to her full adult self. Keiner owns Jane Eyre here as she makes her own decisions to determine her own life path and she perfectly and demonstrably shifts from love and happiness to the crestfallen woman whose hopes are dashed as the secrets of Thornfield Hall and Mr. Rochester come to light. How Keiner so easily makes these transitions is a talent that I hope we see more of at LCP in coming seasons.

left to right, Erin Sura as Mrs. Fairfax, Emily Keiner as Jane Eyre, and Ezekial N. Drews as Edward Rochester. Photo courtesy of Lake Country Players, Photographer: Breanne Brennan

Ezekial N. Drews is similarly gifted as he portrays Edward Rochester. Drews has a character who runs from intimidating and surly patrician, to a stately and mannered gentleman, to a seductive wooing suitor, and finally a contrite and mild, defeated man…Drews missed nary a step in these various miens and certainly portrayed the Rochester that readers will remember from the novel.

A pure delightful character and lighter space in the musical is Reagan Renner as Adele, the student who Jane is responsible for while governess at Thornfield Hall. Her exuberance and sassy caricature present just the right bit humor at just the right time. Particularly as she mimics Mrs. Fairfax’s animated scolding just out of sight of the other characters on stage.

Erin Sura as Mrs. Fairfax and Emily Keiner as Jane Eyre. Photo courtesy of Lake Country Players, Photographer: Breanne Brennan

And some of the tenderest albeit sad scenes feature Gabriella George as Jane’s best friend, Helen Burns, at Lowood. Her interplay with Lombardi as the young Jane is very very touching and then her death during the Typhus outbreak and Jane’s grieving are particularly touching moments…far more so than some of the adult heartbreak…and George is a major player in the success of these scenes! Another actor who I hope finds a place in future LCP seasons.

And one last bit about the set: LCP often uses visuals projected on the back wall of the stage to set the feeling and locale for each change of scene. Director Brennan certainly put a lot of thought into what was selected here. She created a number of slides that resemble watercolors and drawings that not only tell us we are in an attic or school room or garden…but they are also depicted in a gray and just out of focus manner that clearly tells us that we are in a 19th C. Gothic story.

Paige Lombardi as young Jane and Gabriella George as Helen Burns and in the background, Emily Keiner as Jane Eyre. Photo courtesy of Lake Country Players. Photographer Breanne Brennan.

Jane Eyre, The Musical continues through July 21, 2024 at the Lake Country Playhouse in Hartland WI. Ticket and other information available here. It was sold out at the performance that I attended. RUNTIME: 2 hours, 30 minutes. 15 Minute Intermission.