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Sisters of the Moors – “Charlotte & Emily” by Jude Morgan

“All Charlotte had to do was not make a noise. It occurred to her that this had always been the case. At the parsonage, at Cowan Bridge, at Roe Head, at Stonegappe, at the Pensionnat Heger: hush. Hush. It occurred to her that perhaps the time had come to make a noise.”

Since I can remember, I’ve been a Bronte nerd.  Even more than my Jane Austen nerdiness is my appreciation and adoration of Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Bronte.  It began when I first read “Jane Eyre,” and has lasted through years and my readings of most of the sisters other works.

Of course Jude Morgan’s “Charlotte & Emily” caught my eye.  And of course I read it in a flash, staying up late to complete the book because I simply couldn’t put it down.

Rather than doing another biography of the trio, Morgan chose to take the events of their lives and novelize them.  This method works effectively, as the facts of the sisters lives are pretty well-known to those who would likely find a novel like this interesting.  For those who aren’t familiar with them, this could be an excellent gateway.

Kicking off with the death of their mother, “Charlotte & Emily” follows the five Bronte sisters and one brother as they become three sisters and a brother (the two eldest sisters died young), go through schooling, take jobs as teachers and governesses.  The Bronte brother, Branwell, is also showcased as he drifts from city to job to another.  Finally, the trio of sisters reach their ultimate triumph as writers of works that set literary circles buzzing.

If you’re aware of the lives of the sisters, you know that none of them lived to old age and only Charlotte ever got married.  The book ends after the sisters have become acclaimed writers, and right after Charlotte (the last surviving Bronte) has gotten married.  It’s a high point to close on.

Morgan packs a lot into these pages – the lives of four main characters crossing years and countries.  The writing is great and the characters (as they’re developed in fiction form) are interesting. Charlotte is obviously our main hero, but Emily’s moodiness and unique spirit are riveting reading.  She may have only written one novel – but hey, it was “Wuthering Heights.” Show some respect.

FYI – Though the title is “Charlotte and Emily,” Anne gets more than her fair share of play here.  I’m not sure why it’s not called “Charlotte and Emily and Anne,” but what do I know?

Loved it.

10 Great Musicals Based on Books!

Happiest of Fridays, everyone!

My two great loves are Musicals and Books.

Sometimes I get lucky and great books serve as the basis for musicals. This post is all about celebrating some of these wonderful marriages.  I’m ignoring some really terrible musical adaptations in favor of stage versions that capture the spirit and characters of the original novel, often while enhancing the original text with the aid of music and wonderful performers.

FYI – Since they’re really obvious, I’ll be leaving out “Les Miserables,” “Wicked,” and “The Phantom of the Opera.” This is not intended to be a judgement on those shows, which I happen to hold dear.

However, no “Cats” Allowed – Based on T.S. Eliot or not.  Seriously.

1.  The Secret Garden (1991)

In my opinion, one of the most perfectly constructed musical adaptations ever, this musical captures all the wonder and joy of the classic story of Mary Lennox, her uncle Archibald, and the garden hidden away after the death of Mary’s aunt Lily. 

The Original Broadway Cast of “The Secret Garden” performs on the Tony Awards. Little Daisy Egan would win Best Featured Actress in a musical for her performance as Mary Lennox.

2.  Ragtime (1998, Revived in 2008)

Granted, the musical cleans up some of the seedier aspects of the novel (there’s no sexy Emma Goldman/Evelyn Nesbitt scene in the musical) but otherwise “Ragtime” is one of the best adaptations of a book to the stage ever produced.  The show got overshadowed during it’s original Broadway run by the monster known as “The Lion King,” but it’s incomparable score is much beloved of Broadway nerds everywhere.

The Original Broadway cast OWNING at the Tony awards.

3.  South Pacific (1948, revived in 1955 and 2008)

Adapted from James Michener’s “Tales of the South Pacific,” this musical is truly a timeless one.

The adorable Mitzi Gaynor performs “Honey Bun” from the film version.

4.  Big River (1985, Revived in 2003)

Adapted from Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” with a score by Roger Miller.

A Commercial for the 1985 Broadway Cast – which I’d never seen until this.

5.  The Mystery of Edwin Drood (1985)

Charles Dickens’ final, unfinished novel got a Broadway treatment thanks to Rupert Holmes – and the audience gets to choose the ending!   Isn’t that a marvelous idea?

6.  Sweeney Todd (1979, Revived in 1989 and 2005)

“The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” first appeared in penny dreadful novels around 1846, and was turned into a marvelous, chilling, and award-winning musical by Stephen Sondheim in 1989.  It’s one of those shows actors would die to be a part of, and the movie version (starring Johnny Depp) was divine.  Even if it did spawn Hot Topic T-shirts and Sweeney Todd buttons on backpacks.  Whatever.

The 2005 Revival cast (playing their own instruments, mind you!) performs “A Little Priest.”

7.  Jane Eyre (2000)

Charlotte Bronte’s most famous creations came to the stage in the musical in 2000, to sadly not a great deal of success.  It’s a pretty dense book to become a musical, but the score is pretty grand.

The Original Broadway cast performs at the Tony Awards.

8. The Lord of the Rings (London Opening 2007)

Talk about an ambitious project.  It took how many years to bring J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic three-novel series to movie theatres, and it seemed like a good idea to make a musical out of it?  Well, it was done, and from all accounts it was pretty good. The London cast has now closed, but there’s a cast recording available.

The tremendous London cast (led by the amazing Laura Michelle Kelly) performs “Lothlorien.”

9. The Woman in White (London 2004, Broadway 2005)

Wilkie Collins’ most famous novel, a ghost story about a young teacher, mistaken identities, asylums, and diabolical schemes.

This is the best I could find – a video of awkwardly cut together

10. Little Women (2005)

Louisa May Alcott’s timeless novel seems like it would be a perfect match for the musical stage.  Doesn’t it?  Okay.  I don’t actually think this version is all that wonderful, despite having a few really grand moments.  I really just wanted to post this video of powerhouse Sutton Foster as Jo March singing her big number – “Astonishing.”

You’re Welcome.

Maybe next I should a post about not-so-great musicals based off books.

Hmmm?

 

 

A Bronte’s Story, Finished – “Emma Brown” by Clare Boylan

Clare Boylan has serious guts – and, thankfully, the skills to back them up.

For  “Emma Brown” isn’t just a lovely novel written by Ms. Boylan.   It’s got a lot longer literary history than that.  When Charlotte Bronte died, she left behind a twenty-page piece of a never-completed novel.  Ms. Boylan took those twenty pages, fleshed them out, and completed the novel both with all due respect to Ms. Bronte, but with her own twists as well. The end result is the acclaimed 2003 release of “Emma Brown.”

Though she’s clearly a fan of Bronte and manages to keep one coherent voice through the entire novel, it’s Ms. Boylan’s hand that turns the novel to what makes it the most interesting – a mystery.  It’s as if Ms. Boylan took the spark from Charlotte Bronte, added in the delightful mysteries of Wilkie Collins, and then sprinkled it with her own modern thinking.

A young girl named Matilda Fitzgibbon is dropped off at a girls boarding school, dressed in exquisite clothes and obviously wealthy.  Soon, it’s discovered that she’s not rich, and her name isn’t Matilda Fitzgibbon at all – but Emma.  She doesn’t remember her history at all, and despairs until a gentleman and a widow team up to find her identity. Meanwhile, Matilda/Emma has gone on the run to try and discover her own truth, and winds up in the seediest places in London.

The narration follows the three main characters – Matilda/Emma, Mr. Ellin (the gentleman) and Isabel Chalfont (the widow) as they make their way through the events of the story. All three are interesting, fully-formed, and complex characters.  The more we get to know about their backstories, the more we care about them.  This is particularly true of Isabel, our narrator, who brings the title character of “Jane Eyre” to mind in many ways, from her hard work ethic to her addressing the reader personally.  I took it as an homage to the legendary Ms. Bronte and her most famous creation, and immediately felt like I found a friend in Isabel.

Having read a great deal of Bronte in my time, “Emma Brown” makes both a welcome addition to Bronte canon while at the same time bringing attention to Ms. Boylan, a remarkable writer in her own right.  (Sadly, Clare Boylan passed away in 2006.)

This one’s for the Bronte nerds.

“Wuthering Heights” presented by Lifeline Theatre, opens 9/10!

When I first heard that Lifeline Theatre, one of my favorite Chicago theater companies, was opening their 2010-2011 season with an adaptation of Emily Bronte’s “Wuthering Heights,” I proclaimed one thing loudly – I was there.

The saga of Catherine and Heathcliff has been one of my favorite books since I first recall reading it in junior high. Heck, I even watched the bad made-for-MTV version starring Erika Christiansen (and a pre-Gray’s Anatomy Katherine Heigl, but I doubt anyone remembers that.)  Lifeline is known for doing a lot with a little, and their production promises lots of highly physical theater. If it’s anything like their world premiere adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s “Neverwhere” last season, it’ll be worth the trip – and then some.

So, this show opens soon and I will absolutely be in attendance.

Wuthering Heights

A world premiere based on the novel by Emily Bronte

Adapted by Christina Calvit

September 10 – October 31, 2010

For tickets, visit http://www.lifelinetheatre.com