Story & Photos by Dani Hayes
LOGAN—Some may argue that the arts are a luxury, but for Jay Richards, they are a necessity for life.
Although he never formally studied music, Richards is a nationally known composer for his original score in his adaptation of Little Women,and is the founding director of Music Theater West, headquartered in River Heights.
His latest production, Jane Eyre: A New Musical, for which he both composed the music and wrote the script, premieres Thursday at the Ellen Eccles Theater in Logan.
For Richards, theater helps people connect with their own humanity. “I think in the arts we are constantly reminded of it,” Richards said. “We have struggles. We have trials. We have things to overcome, and sometimes I don’t think we can share that, or feel that completely, until we see it on stage.”
And that is particularly true of musical theater, said Richards, who believes the power of music can push emotion “over the edge.” He chose Jane Eyre—the famed 1847 love story by Charlotte Bronte of a young governess who falls in love with her much older employer, Mr. Rochester—because of the emotions Bronte portrays in her novel. Richards said he was immediately captured by the storytelling process of the book and wanted to amplify it with music.
“If I can find a musical language or a vocabulary that breaks down your barrier as an audience member and makes you say, ‘The music went right to my heart and forced me to feel what you wanted me to feel,’ I think in a lot of ways, at the right moment, if music is used correctly, it can magnify all of those emotions times 10,” he said.
Richards’ work on Jane Eyre didn’t come without uncertainty.
“Jane Eyre is not an easy piece to put on stage,” he said “It’s very tightly woven [and] fairly complex. In fact, as I was finishing the work on the script I was reading a book on writing musical theater, and the author said the one story that should never be musicalized is Jane Eyre.”
Obviously, Richards disagrees.
Richards’ journey toward this production of Jane Eyre has been a long one. He did a workshop version of the play in 1998 that didn’t end as he had hoped.
“None of us had any idea of what we were doing,” he said. “It was my first real attempt at music theater … I was learning. The people we worked with on the script were learning. We had students building the set. We had students directing. In no way was it a profession attempt at anything. When I watch the video sometimes I think, ‘Oh my goodness, we did that in public.’”
After that frustrating attempt, Richards put the music on the backburner and turned his attention elsewhere.
“The music I had written literally sat in a drawer for 15 years, and I never thought I’d pull it out again,” he said. “Just last year, I pulled it out and thought, ‘You know this is good stuff. I need to finish this.’”
Within a year, Richards improved the musical score, completely rewrote the script, and the show is now in the final days of rehearsal before its Thursday premiere.
Richards’ skill and passion radiates to the cast
“I can’t really tell you that I’ve ever had a better experience in my life than working with Jay and Music Theater West,” said Kent Braddy, who plays Mr. Rochester. “I’ve never met anyone more passionate about theater than Jay. It’s all-consuming to him. He puts his heart and soul into absolutely everything he does.”
Actor Marty Blair, who plays Mr. Brocklehurst, similarly feels honored.
“He’s a professional and that’s the neatest part about being involved in a show like this,” Blair said. “Jay wants things done right and that’s one of the intimidating things about this whole process.
“When you have the person who has written the script and written the music, he has in his mind what he’s looking for and we just have to make sure we are reading his mind and doing the best we can to develop the character the way we hope he has it in his mind.”
Richards has a vision for his productions and it begins during the early creating periods.
“If I’m sitting at my piano and I’m writing out lyrics and my heart’s pounding and I may have tears in my eyes, I know I got it right,” he said. “I know that if I orchestrate this correctly and put it correctly in the show, [the audience will] feel exactly what I’m feeling when I was sitting there at the piano. It’s a heart massage, from beginning to end. It’s a real emotional process.”
Jane Eyre has its world premiere Thursday-Saturday and Monday-Tuesday in Logan. Click here for samples of the soundtrack. For ticket information, contact the Ellen Eccles Theater or call the Cache Valley Center for the Arts at 43 S. Main St. at (435) 752-0026.