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ETBU Theatre and Music Arts concludes 2023-24 production season with Jane Eyre: The Musical

April 26, 2024

East Texas Baptist University's School of Communication and Performing Arts closed out the 2023-2024 production season with "Jane Eyre," a tragic-poetic musical drama adapted from the beloved novel of the same name written by Charlotte Brontë, from Thursday, April 18-Sunday, April 21 at Memorial City Hall in downtown Marshall. The show was directed by Assistant Professor of Theatre Arts Rouba Palmer with musical direction by Assistant Professor of Music Judith Shelton. The live orchestra was conducted by Assistant Professor of Music Dr. Pat Antinone.

"I have always loved the story of Jane Eyre, and when I heard the music score, I fell in love with the music, too," Palmer said. "We worked hard to highlight the themes of redemption, forgiveness, and overcoming adversity in hopes of inspiring audience members with a central message to persist in righteousness even when circumstances are at odds."

The musical follows the journey of Jane Eyre, an orphaned young woman, as she navigates through a tumultuous life filled with hardship, love, and self-discovery. Raised in harsh conditions at Lowood School, Jane grows into a strong-willed and independent individual. She takes on a governess position at Thornfield Hall, where she meets the enigmatic Mr. Rochester. Despite their differences in social status and demeanor, Jane and Rochester form a deep emotional connection.

As their relationship blossoms, Jane discovers dark secrets lurking within Thornfield Hall, including the presence of Rochester's mad wife, Bertha. Forced to confront her own principles and desires, Jane faces difficult choices that challenge her integrity and resilience. Throughout the musical, themes of love, morality, and the search for identity are explored against the backdrop of Victorian England.

With poignant musical numbers and powerful performances, the show captured the essence of Brontë's timeless story, offering audiences a compelling portrayal of one woman's quest for independence and belonging in a society bound by conventions and constraints. The cast and crew also worked diligently to emphasize several strong Christian themes infused throughout the production.

"Forgiveness, redemption, judgment, mercy, and how God tempers the former with the latter to visit us with salvation are some of the more prominent ideas highlighted in the show," Shelton said. "It's been my desire to direct this show for a very long time, so getting to direct the music was a joyful experience for me. The cast was receptive to my suggestions and quick to respond to the musical needs and direction I was moving. The challenge primarily lay in making such a large score and such heavy singing material accessible to the students."

Assistant Professor of Theatre Arts Jake Yenish oversaw the technical and scenic designs of the production and shared how the combined involvement of cast and crew, students, and faculty ultimately brought the compelling and creative show to life.

"As a liberal arts institution, our students have the opportunity to be deeply involved in as many aspects of the production as they're willing to," Yenish said. "Looking at the playbill, the names of the cast also appear in the production staff, and vice versa. Our students are the primary motivating source for the work we are able to accomplish. It is their sweat and their muscle that physically produced the design of the show."