There are so many great performers whose talents demand shows to be written for them. It’s nothing short of a major theatrical injustice that Marla Schaffel has not found a role on Broadway since her tour de force turn as Jane Eyre in Jane Eyre. I keeping hoping she’ll be chosen to take Mary Poppins on the road if not replace Ashley Brown on Broadway when she chooses to depart.
Jane Eyre is an extremely delicate and complex role. As a mega-fan of the Charlotte Bronte novel, I must say that despite many Janes on film, Marla Schaffel is the definitive Jane Eyre (and the musical the definitive adaptation of the show to any visual medium). Scene after scene, Marla Schaffel pounded every nuance, every detail, every ounce of Jane into that show. She brought out Jane’s firm determination, her longing and anguish, her loving, beautiful side. This was not just a tough role—Jane not only sings in most of the show’s songs, but it demands nothing short of 110% of the performer for an entire evening.
I know many people were mixed about the show itself. The novel has survived over 150 years as a favorite of men and women alike, and Paul Gordon and John Caird’s musical succeeded in adapting its epic scope in a manner that not only felt complete but wholly satisfying. If people disliked the show, I have a feeling they would have disliked the novel, which, again, has survived over 150 years in continuous publication. Whatever people felt about the show itself, Marla Schaffel was universally praised for her monumental performance. Yes, there were many gifted performers in the show—James Barbour, Mary Stout, Elizabeth DeGrazia, Jayne Paterson to name a few—but Marla Schaffel’s star turn gave the show its heart and soul. When I saw her, you could see every ounce of her passion exerted for the audience’s sake. By the curtain call, I couldn’t clap and cheer enough. I tried. I tried really hard. But how can you ever fully acknowledge such an amazing performance?
In fact, I can hardly listen to her on the CD or watch the clip below without wanting to re-read the original novel again.
Some people fondly remember Ethel Merman in Gypsy, Mary Martin in South Pacific, or Angela Lansbury in Sweeney Todd. I, for one, will always count Marla Schaffel in Jane Eyre as one of the greatest theatrical blessings I’ve ever been granted.
Unofficial Website: http://www.currerwells.net/marlaschaffel/
July 16, 2007