Jane Eyre

What distinguishes this world-premiere production of a new adaptation of Charlotte Brontë's classic isn't so much the material as the performances of leads Melissa Lyons Caldretti and T. Eric Hart. The show's songs, by Jerry Williams (music) and Patricia York (lyrics), are rather lackluster, and York's libretto seems heavily derivative. The combination of story, characters, themes, and songs calls to mind "Les Misérables," "Oliver!," and half a dozen other existing musicals, although this one would be better categorized as an operetta. One imagines that York and director Jan Duncan have had to do a considerable amount of reshuffling and reworking to even get it to the point of being ready for a major

Caldretti's and Hart's portrayals, however, are nearly pitch-perfect. Both are Broadway veterans whose immense talents shine through characters and material that often feel clichéd. As one would expect, the duo have impressive vocal skills: Caldretti has a pop/musical theater style, while Hart's expressive tenor is more operatic. But their acting sells the show. Caldretti manages the difficult, delicate balancing act of creating a heroine whose passivity is her strength. Her Jane Eyre survives because she is able to blend quietly into the background, observing all those around her. Yet Caldretti shows us that Jane isn't afraid to speak her mind, especially to Mr. Rochester, who is largely feared and misunderstood by the rest of the household staff. Hart doesn't just present Rochester's cold exterior first, his tortured soul later; the actor allows us to get inside the man and understand him, why he chooses to appear so abrupt and remote, and why he selects Jane as his friend, confidante, and ultimately his soul mate.

None of the show's other roles come remotely close to offering any kind of depth—not even the two parts essayed by veteran Richard Kinsey. Thus, the remainder of the actors are forced to telegraph their characters' traits in a dramatic shorthand. The one supporting role that defies this description, the Reverend St. John Rivers, is played way over the top by Anthony Carillo. Jane's distant cousin self-centeredly claims her as his bride-to-be, insisting she marry him and follow him in his worldwide missionary work, and Carillo's tense, shrill reading very nearly borders on parody. It's the show's only comic relief, yet it arrives too late to offer any such relief from what is essentially melodramatic soap opera.

Presented by FCLO Music Theatre at Plummer Auditorium, 201 E. Chapman Ave., Fullerton. Oct. 15–31. Thu.–Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m. (714) 879-1732 or www.fclo.com.