54 Sings Jane Eyre

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54 Sings Jane Eyre

Feinstein’s/54 Below, NYC, February 28, 2018

Reviewed by Chris Struck for Cabaret Scenes

Nearly two decades ago (year 2000), Paul Gordon (composer-lyricist) and John Caird (book) succeeded in turning their translation of the classic standard of novels, Jane Eyre, into a Broadway darling, nominated for five Tony Awards. A complex novel in its own right, the musical did not hold back on its own intricacies, including a superb ensemble soprano line and a rare call for a baritone. This may be part of the reason a young Robbie Rozelle (director and narrator for the evening) latched onto the story in song version of the rambunctious Jane Eyre and her dashing Mr. Rochester. Flash to now and Rozelle’s love for this particular musical became a passion project that we could all enjoy, featuring fabulous voices at one of Manhattan’s finest venues.

Rozelle as narrator told the story between songs, describing the wanderlust and ambition of young Jane Eyre (Samantha Massell) as she becomes governess in Rochester’s (Kevin Massey) household. As events unfold, the obstacles of other relationships of Rochester’s are discovered, and eventually he loses his sight in a somewhat deserved twist of fate dealt by ex-wife Bertha (Dana Costello).

Eyre is left to decide between St. John Rivers (Clay Singer) or the now damaged Rochester.

Performing one of the more beautiful songs, “Brave Enough for Love,” she chooses Rochester.

Despite barely moving from their places, the chemistry between Massell and Massey grew with each song and crystallized nicely with this finale.

While some of the cast did appear to have memorized more of their parts than others, every one utilized sheet music, including a large ensemble which managed to intermittently squeeze onto the stage with cellist Andrew Nielsen and pianist Cameron Moncur. That being said, Massell impressed as Jane with almost clinical precision through 13 numbers and multiple solos. With a solid English accent and a calm stage demeanor, she brought the character to life, especially during duets alongside Massey and Mary Stout (Mrs. Fairfax).

Stout and Ryan Speakman also stood out. Stout’s easy articulation of the quick-tempoed “Slip of a Girl” allowed her to bring out both the stern and exuberant sides of the song. Speakman, as Rochester’s old friend Richard Mason, delivered an astounding baritone. The only unfortunate part was that he only had one song!

The well-dressed trio Paris Nesbitt, Asher Dubin, and Alexandra Frost shined among the ensemble, and Singer did well as missionary-to-be John Rivers. I wouldn’t be surprised to see this brought back to 54 Below.

It had a classy feel aided by a strong story, good lyrics, and a fun cast.

Chris Struck

Chris Struck's debut novel, Kennig and Gold, is due to be officially published in June 2019. He's written reviews for Cabaret Scenes since August of 2017. For more information about the writer, see StruckChris.com