April 2023
A Victorian for Today
Jane Eyre the Musical at Yavapai College

It’s one woman’s fight for freedom and fulfillment on her own terms.

Whether we’ve read the book or watched one of the ten film versions, the story of Jane Eyre is known to many of us. Less familiar is the musical version. Jane Eyre the Musical, with music and lyrics by Paul Gordon and book by John Caird based on the 1847 novel by Charlotte Brontë, debuted on Broadway in 2000. Nominated for six Tony awards and winner of one, this show is coming in April to the Jim and Linda Lee Performing Arts Center at Yavapai College.

The title alone offers instant recognition for the show, but has also limited its success to some degree. The original version only ran for six months on Broadway, and director Dr. Craig Ralston attributes that to “the name, not the quality, especially since men don’t think this show will appeal to them.”

Ralston believes that the success of the Netflix series Bridgerton will change that. Jane Eyre is set in England’s Victorian period, which followed the Regency period in which Bridgerton takes place. Though the narrative is set long ago, the struggles of the protagonist and the themes underlying the production are just as relevant today. As Ralston states, “it’s about the inner struggles, the relationships, the disappointments, the rejections … it is the individual journey of how we forge ahead [regardless] of the advances of society.”

Like most of Brontë’s works, Jane Eyre is often labeled a romance. While the titular character is searching for that love, the plot is more about self-reliance, spirituality, friendship, integrity and fervency. Fire, in various forms, is a common theme throughout this production, one that Ralston emphasizes:

“Fire works its way through the show — the fire within, the fire that changes everything. She wants to be free, wants to be free from the horrible home she had to grow up in with her aunt, and the abuse, being in an orphanage, treated terribly, and always told what she has to be. It is about her fight for freedom, freedom of her own expression, of her individuality. She wants to be equal. These are huge themes that unfortunately we still struggle with today in our society. These things have not gone away. We think we’ve moved forward, and sometimes we have, but then we think, wow, we’re still prejudiced on so many levels.”

Ralston describes this as a contrast with the department’s last production, Hello Dolly!, in that rather than featuring big, colorful dance numbers it will tell the hauntingly beautiful story of a woman fighting for what she wants out of life. Longtime patrons have watched the growth of the program over the years. Ralston’s first show, The Secret Garden, played to about 1,500 patrons, where Hello Dolly! brought in about 9,000.

Ralston is grateful for and amazed at the support the program has received from area residents. This relatively small community offers more opportunities to enjoy the performing arts than its size might suggest. In discussing other area venues and types of productions, Ralston states, “YC is the big fish, but we’re not here to dominate, we’re here to collaborate,” and the theatre brings different challenges and talent pools.

Yavapai College created its Associate of Arts, Fine Arts degree six years ago, and that program has a lot to do with the quality of productions performed. When it comes to choosing the musicals to perform, Ralston considers the students in the programs. While he strives to keep the program relevant, he does have to consider possible backlash against controversy. “We can’t be too edgy in this town, that’s a business decision,” but he fully supports the stretching of boundaries. “Shows that push the bar usually mean [they’re] relevant, not because they’re so avant-garde or outlandish, it usually means we’re being too honest. A lot of our society in the arts can be ‘same-old-same-old’ because it’s safe, not because it’s relevant.”

Jane Eyre the Musical will only be available for six performances. Says Ralston, “it’s a gorgeous show.”

Jane Eyre the Musical will play April 14-16 and 21-23 at Jim & Linda Lee Performing Arts Center on the Yavapai College campus. Tickets are $35-45 for adults, youth $10, available at ycpac.org.

Lizabeth Rogers covers the local-theatre beat.

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