We sat down with Louis Hobson, Rochester in the upcoming production of Jane Eyre, to discuss his role and what makes this story – and this musical – unique. Louis has been a fixture on Seattle stages for years, and originated the role of Doctor in the Pulitzer Prize-winning production of Next to Normal. Jane Eyre takes the stage at ArtsWest on November 15. Get tickets here.
What made you excited for this production when you first heard about it?
I didn’t know the source material, really, – I’d heard of the book but I’d never read it, I’d never seen the musical, but it was one of those CDs I bought at borders when it came out: I was like, “Oh, this is interesting, what is this show?” I listened to it and I liked it, but I never saw it, I never read it. This was a brand new experience, stepping into the world of Jane Eyre.
How’d you hear about the ArtsWest production?
I called up Mat [ArtsWest Artistic Director Mathew Wright] because I’d been a big fan of his for many years, but I’d never worked with him as a director. I called him up on the phone and I said, “Is there anything this season you think I might be right for?” He said, “Jane Eyre.” And I was like, “Okay, I’d like to think about doing a play,” and he was like, “Jane Eyre. You’d be a great Rochester.” And I said, “Okay.” We had some great conversations, and it worked out with my schedule, and I said yes.
Having worked on the material for several weeks now, what has emerged as being the most meaningful to you?
It’s so emotional, and it earns the emotions that it gets – it’s not maudlin, it’s not melodrama. And that was the biggest challenge when we came in – knowing that this could easily drift into melodrama. At the time it was written, that was the style of drama that existed, and when plays were written after the novel came out, they were all sort of in this melodramatic form. But underneath of all of that, and in the novel especially, there’s this sort of psychological truth for both of these characters. Both of them are complex and don’t always behave the way that you want them to – or expect them to.
I think when we break down the themes of the piece, a lot of this is about forgiveness and being able to forgive someone and forgive yourself. I think that right now, in the world that we live in, we need that – we need something beautiful and good. There’s also this notion of equality between these two people: that we live in a time, in the play, that is more shifted toward Rochester – he has the power, the wealth and the agency. I think what’s so revolutionary about what Bronte wrote in the novel, and what translated to the play, is this idea that this contract of marriage shouldn’t be a contract at all, it should be based on love. As much as we take that for granted, it wasn’t taken for granted at the time that the novel was written. It’s beautiful to see this notion that Bronte proposes: that love should be the foundation for a relationship, love should be the foundation for a marriage, not a contract. Bronte’s burning that down and saying love triumphs all.
Why make it into a musical?
Musicals have to sing, literally. You have to get to a point where the text no longer serves you. You have to move and dance, or you have to sing, and there is a heightened realism because we move beyond speech. In this piece, at the foundation of it, the emotions are so strong and the desire is so strong amongst these people that it naturally moves into a musical form. You always worry about any piece that you translate from novel to stage to musical – I mean, this is an 800 page novel that is very dense and very descriptive, it’s very difficult to condense that down. Music lateralizes, anyway, these thoughts and ideas, so the more time that we’re spending singing the less time we’re – sometimes – telling story. But I think what the musical does beautifully is that it doestell the story through music. It’s not like a stop and “park and bark” sort of show that musicals can get a bad rap for. Every moment of the story and especially this production is packed with story – every lyric, every song, is progressing the plot changing the relationship, exposing the characters for who they are.
How does your character, Rochester, fit in to the story?
What’s interesting about the novel is that it’s told from her [Jane’s] perspective. So who Rochester isis in relationship to who Jane is. Rochester is not a prop, but he’s a character in herstory. So that’s how I sort of approach everything: that Rochester is seen through her lens and the story is told through her lens. Rochester enters at a point in the story where she’s made some big decisions on who she wants to be for the rest of her life, and finds herself still wanting more, craving more adventure, and more life, and Rochester enters as this challenge to live that life and to be the person she thinks she could become. I think that Rochester is really there to challenge her. He has his own wants and desires and needs and issues and challenges, and he doesn’t do everything correctly – but the one thing he really does is help challenge her to rise above the time, and to become what we perceive as a very contemporary story of equality between these two people, and of the agency in making her decisions for the rest of her life.
Why do audiences need to see Jane Eyre?
People need to see Jane Eyre because it’s made for the holidays – it’s like a coat that you put on: it feels warm and inviting and comforting. It’s not a show that’s going to make you bleed all over the floor, but it will make you cry, it will make you feel something – it will make feel like love is possible, that the world isn’t as dark a place that you see every day on tv, that the strength of the human character is alive and well at ArtsWest.
Also, It stars one of the most amazing performers on the Seattle stage with Chelsea LeValley, and she’s just stunning as Jane Eyre – she rips your heart out, and she makes you love her, and you get angry at her. You really follow an amazing story from start to finish about this girl growing up and becoming a woman. I think it’s a great story for right now, told beautifully by Mat and Chelsea here at ArtsWest.
What are you most excited for people to see?
I’m excited for people to see this new version of the show! If anyone has seen Jane Eyrebefore, you’ve probably seen a big, Broadway-style production with a cast of 26 people and big set pieces moving in and out. This is a brand new production that has just been written and performed for the first time in the last 6 months – a brand-new chamber version of this musical, cut down from the 20-something people in the cast to essentially 10 people in this company. Everybody tells the story through inhabiting different characters. It’s incredibly intimate, on a small stage with a unit set, and it’s just wonderfully conceived and something really brand new. This is almost like doing a new musical rather than a revival of a previous production – this is really fresh off the presses.
Jane Eyre the Musical plays at ArtsWest November 15 – December 23. Get tickets here.