You might say actor Mark Gollaher has come full circle, theatrically speaking.
About 15 months ago he was in the cast of Salt Lake Acting Company's world premiere production of Aden Ross' "FF: The Brontes," an intriguing drama about the Bronte sisters.This week he'll be in another world premiere with a Bronte connection - a new musical version of Charlotte Bronte's "Jane Eyre," making its formal debut at the Hale Center Theater in South Salt Lake.
Gollaher portrays Rochester, the moody lord of Thornfield Manor, and Roweena Greenwood plays Jane Eyre, the young governess who becomes caught up in a dark, mysterious - and romantic - series of events.
Unlike other HCT productions, the roles of Jane and Rochester are not entirely "double cast." Greenwood and Gollaher will appear in most performances during the show's seven-week run, trading off only occasionally with Patricia York and Mark Dietlein, while the rest of the cast will be double-cast and performing on alternating nights.
York, who last appeared at the Hale Center Theater as Guenevere in "Camelot," wrote the script for "Jane Eyre: The Musical," using her penname - Patricia Youkstetter. But many HCT patrons may also recognize her from her earlier days as a television actress, when she performed in "Land of the Giants" under yet another name: Heather Young.
Youkstetter, whose career as an actress shifted into low gear when she took on the busy roles of wife and mother - both of which she still enjoys - first thought about adapting "Jane Eyre" as a musical after working on some projects with Lex de Azevedo.
One of Youkstetter and de Azevedo's earlier projects was "Debbie: Diary of a Mormon Girl," in the mid-1970s.
De Azevedo wrote Youkstetter from London a couple of years ago, noting he had seen all the shows over there and felt the two of them could write a Broadway-caliber musical.
Youkstetter was particularly interested in attempting to adapt "Jane Eyre," one of the classics in world literature, as a musical.
While most readers consider it "a woman's book" (and it's certainly more romantic than the kind of high-powered adventures that young boys generally opt for), Youkstetter feels the role of Rochester is a fabulous part for an actor.
"It may be a woman's romance, but Jane is just `straight man' for Rochester," she said.
Before "Jane Eyre" really got started, however, de Azevedo had some other projects in the way, and the two former collaborators never got around to it. In the meantime, the Youkstetters moved their family from Southern California to a new home in the Holladay area.
Patricia went ahead with her script and, a few months ago, singer Robert Peterson and several friends came to the Youkstetter residence for a read-through. Those present felt the show had potential, but the project didn't really began gathering steam until two years ago when Youkstetter attended a concert where Marie Osmond was performing with the Utah Symphony.
Her musical director at the time was Jerry Williams, a conductor/composer who had received his degree in composition from Brigham Young University in the early 1980s.
Youkstetter had just finished recording a country-western album (an entirely new direction for her), and she was familiar with some of Williams' orchestrations.
"When I saw him conducting the Marie Osmond concert, everything just began falling together. I felt `Jane Eyre' should be a big-stage musical," said Youkstetter.
Williams, picking up the story, commented that "Patty was in the audience and, for whatever reason, got my telephone number and called me up. I was looking for something like this to do and she sent me a script.
"I'm a literary idiot. I had never read `Jane Eyre' and I probably would have spelled it `Air,' " said Williams, noting that he was barely four pages into the script and "I knew there was something here."
Williams said Youkstetter had outlined the show's opening number - which runs more than nine minutes long. In most shows, that would be much too long, but Williams said that the song, "A Passionate Goodness," not only allows Jane to progress from a youngster of about 6 to a young woman, but it also provides the first insight into Jane's credo throughout the show and the basis of her inner strength.
Williams just recently went to London ("to make up for my ineptness," he claims) and this visit helped him get much closer to the project.
"In retrospect, we've been able to strike a balance between the heavy drama and the story's lightness," said Williams.
"This is not a direct translation," said Youkstetter, "at least not like `My Fair Lady' is of Shaw's `Pygmalion.' This came from a huge book and so much had to be cut."
Youkstetter condensed much of the classic story and added some subtext that's missing from the original book.
"The book was all written in first person, and Jane Eyre is in virtually every scene. It's all written from her point of view, and I felt it needed another point of view, which I extracted from my own mind," said Youkstetter.
The script was originally conceived as a musical that would be staged in a "prosecenium"-style theater and some alterations have been made in fitting it into the HCT's in-the-round setting.
- THE STORY of "Jane Eyre" is a Bronte classic. The title character is an orphan girl who has been relegated to charity in England in the mid-1800s. After being both a student and a teacher at Lowood School, she applies for a governess position and gains one at Thornfield Hall, the large residence of Edward Rochester.
At Thornfield, Jane becomes involved in events that are both mysterious and romantic as Rochester plays on her emotions and wrenches her heart.
Youkstetter's lyrics and Jerry Williams' music and orchestrations have an emotionally dynamic "Les Miserables" feel.
"There's a lot of underscoring in this production," said Youkstetter during an interview in her Holladay area home. "It starts right off with three songs, bang, bang, bang, for the first 11 minutes, then there's a sort of overture."
Some inspiration for the musical probably came from the Youkstetters' "storybook" residence, which looks like it came straight from the British countryside.
One song, in which the kitchen help grouse about their lot in life, has a "Master of the House"/"Be Our Guest" sound.
Audiences familiar with composer Jerry Williams' work (primarily as Marie Osmond's musical director in recent years) and his heavily "country" background, may be surprised with this new direction in his music.
A native of Georgia, Williams has lived in Nashville, Southern California and Utah. He earned his B.A. in music composition at Brigham Young University in the early 1980s. After a brief stint at the Opryland complex in Nashville, he was invited to work with the Osmonds, commencing with the tail end of "The Osmond Show" days and continuing, sometimes fragmentally, over the years. For the past five years he has toured with Marie Osmond as her musical director, but dropped back from this when Marie began her "Sound of Music" tour (which is coming to Salt Lake City Feb. 21-26 as part of the Theater League of Utah's 1994-95 season).
Williams is a perfectionist when it comes to music. Seeing him in action during the recent recording sessions in Salt Lake City, when he was working at blending the chorus of live singers in one of the L.A. East studios with the 24-track orchestral tape (recorded in Los Angeles), was a not-to-be-missed experience.
"This is an epic romance and it covers a lot of ground," said Williams. "It was hard to make some of the cuts and some really beautiful things were cut out, but the essence of the story is there. It is absolutely beautiful.
"This tells an important story, and I hope that after someone has seen this that they will walk out with, hopefully, some positive insight on life and love."
- THE TWO LEADING PLAYERS in "Jane Eyre: the Musical," have fairly extensive local stage credits.
Gollaher, who freelances as an illustrator and storyteller, received his B.A. in acting at BYU, where he portrayed Death in "Death Takes a Holiday," Rooster in "Annie" and Romeo in "Romeo and Juliet."
At Sundance, he was Lancelot in "Camelot" and the Tin Man in "The Wizard of Oz."
Roweena Greenwood was most recently seen as Cinderella in the Grand Theatre production of "Into the Woods." The BYU graduate has also appeared in "The King and I" and "Annie Get Your Gun."
Other major roles include Mrs. Fairfax, Rochester's housekeeper, portrayed on alternate nights by Chris Brown and Pat Jackson, with Giselle LaVoie and Mary DeLaMare Pederson trading off as Mrs. Reed, Jane's menacing aunt.
The ensemble, which weaves in and out of various characters, includes Doug Tate, David Mitchell, Tammy Eves, Dolores Huff, Sally Dietlein, Kim Stone, Sharon Kenison, Tamara Adams, Bryon Finch, Bryan P. Jacobs, Jolene Rausch, Debe Pitts, Christopher Strong, Kevin Gollaher, Mike Ferrell, Steve Michaelis, John Llewellyn, Sabra Gertsch and John Gilbert.
Collaborating on the project are Marilyn May Montgomery, choreographer; Scott Michelson, costume designer; Jennifer O'Haley, musical director; Bryan P. Jacobs, set designer, and Cody Swenson, lighting designer (assisted by Drew Christian).
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