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Marla Schaffel: The Unofficial Fan Website


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Talking Tony: Schaffel Nearly Didn't Take Eyre Role (The Palm Beach Post)
Jane Eyre from Dade didn't even study story (The Miami Herald)
Fresh Face: Marla Schaffel (Broadway.com)
To Eyre is Human (TheatreMania.com)
An Eyre of Elegance: Marla Schaffel's Journey with a Bronte Heroine (Show Music)
Giving voice to Jane Eyre (The Cleveland Plain Dealer)
TUTS takes a 'Sound' approach to Maria (Houston Chronicle)
Actress finds the kid inside Maria: 'Sound of Music' star emphasizes youth (Detroit Free Press)
A Favorite Thing (The Columbus Dispatch)

Talking Tony: Schaffel Nearly Didn't Take Eyre Role

Hap Erstein, The Palm Beach Post
June 3, 2001

It was six years ago when Marla Schaffel was initially offered the title role of Jane Eyre, a long journey that would lead to her first Tony nomination. But she almost turned the show down.

"My first reaction, when I was given the tape to learn everything, was 'Oh God, not another pop musical.' I didn't think it was really my thing. It turned out I was completely wrong." So much so that the 32-year-old actress stuck with the show as it moved from Kansas to Toronto to La Jolla, Calif., going through revisions and producers. "There were times I had other offers and they were much more monetarily lucrative, not necessarily artistically lucrative," she recalls.

Schaffel had not read Charlotte Bronte's classic novel of the travails of a determined governess until after she had completed a workshop presentation of the show and learned how much she and the character had in common. Asked what she identifies with in Eyre, she mentions, "Her passion, her internal fortitude, her desire to have no limits on her mind, her belief and her faith."

The Juilliard-trained performer grew up in Miami, which she was once quoted as calling a "cultural wasteland." She laughs nervously at the phrase. "I want to clarify that," Schaffel says. "I referred to it when I was growing up, which was the '80s. It was very much a cultural wasteland, not nearly the activity nor the embrace of the Latin culture and the music that there is now."

Open since December, Jane Eyre has been struggling to stay open until tonight's Tonys, which would help Schaffel's chances of winning. "It is daunting to even think of the Tony, but it is also the dream of a lifetime," she says. "I would be lying to you if I said I didn't fantasize about it." In a season dominated by The Producers, she is fortunate to be in the one category in which that blockbuster hit has no entry. "Thank God it's not called The Produceresses," she quips.

At the moment, Schaffel is working on keeping her expectations in check. "You know what? My dad is going to sit next to me and I'm going to enjoy watching his face," she says. "I think that's going to be my favorite part."

Courtesy of The Palm Beach Post

Jane Eyre from Dade didn't even study story

Joan Fleischman, The Miami Herald
February 25, 2001

At Palmetto High, Marla Schaffel didn't read Jane Eyre, the Charlotte Bronte tale of the mistreated orphan-turned-governess. Now, Schaffel is Jane Eyre—in the Broadway musical.

"Never read the book until I got cast," says Schaffel, 32. "I love reading the classics, but you can't really appreciate the language as a kid."

Schaffel, a Juilliard School drama grad, made her professional debut at Coconut Grove Playhouse at age 10—one of the Cratchit kids in A Christmas Carol.

She's had two other Broadway credits—Les Misérables and Titanic, toured nationally with Evita, sang on Garrison Keillor's A Prairie Home Christmas, and starred in the independent film I Love You...Don't Touch Me!, written by Palmetto pal Julie Davis.

Back in her Miami days, she worked lots of less-than-glamorous jobs.

Among them: making "cookie puss cakes" at Carvel in Suniland and waiting tables at the old J.J.'s American Diner in South Miami and Coral Gables.

As Jane Eyre's star, she does eight shows a week, nearly three hours each, on stage for all but three minutes.

"Like running a marathon," says Schaffel.

Her folks, builder Marty Schaffel and wife Bette of Pinecrest, have seen the play four times—including the Dec. 10 opening. They cried. So did she.

A la Jane Eyre, Schaffel says, "I am wont to weep, anyway."

Courtesy of The Miami Herald

Fresh Face: Marla Schaffel

Beth Stevens, Broadway.com
January 26, 2001

Age: "I think age is irrelevant."

Currently: The title role in Broadway's Jane Eyre at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre. Schaffel describes the show as "excruciatingly special."

Hometown: Miami, Florida. Schaffel moved to New York to attend Juilliard in the drama division. "I had wanted to go to Juilliard from the time I was probably six. I had started wanting to go for piano, and then I wanted to go as an opera singer, and then I wanted to go as a ballet dancer, and then—when I really knew what I wanted—I wanted to go to be an actress."

Committed: After Schaffel graduated from school, she had her first gig on Broadway in Les Misérables. Soon after, Schaffel made a vow to herself. "I really like to be creative and work on new pieces, so I told myself that I was going to either work on things that interested me—like, as if I had the luxury—but I sort of made that commitment to myself. I would work on new pieces or roles that I thought were really interesting and challenging. And that's what happened."

Enter Jane: Schaffel, who has been playing the part of Jane Eyre for five years, began her journey with the role in a small workshop of the show. "They had one of those humongous auditions for a reading that doesn't really pay anything at Manhattan Theatre Club. And they auditioned hundreds of people, and I'm told that I was the first person that they saw for Jane and the only person that they called back." At the time of the reading, Schaffel had never read the classic novel by Charlotte Brontë. "I read it after I had done the original workshop reading. I didn't have time before hand." Even without reading the novel, Schaffel's love for the part was ignited. "I thought that Paul's [Gordon, the composer] writing was so respectful of Brontë's work that I was completely informed by his work. I knew who Jane was for a start. I know her a lot better now."

On the Long Road to Broadway: "It's been a long road for a lot of shows. I think that people forget that. Shows go through so many ups and downs. I think because there have been a few shows that have been blessed with a quick road to Broadway, it doesn't mean that it's the best thing since sliced bread. People think that the long, hard road is unusual, but it's not—it's the norm. You know, Ragtime didn't just appear on Broadway. They worked really freaking hard on that thing.

Cover Girl: To celebrate the Broadway production of Jane Eyre, an "Official Broadway Edition" of the novel was released by Modern Library Classics with artwork featuring Schaffel and costar James Barbour on the cover. Schaffel laughs at the thought of it. "That's a little overwhelming. This novel has been around for 153 years. It kind of weirds me out. There are beautiful old paintings on the cover of these novels, not my sorry ass puss."

Enjoying the Ride: It seems like Jane Eyre would be an emotionally draining character to portray, but Schaffel has found it to be the opposite. "It's funny. You'd think I'd be exhausted. Actually, it's like going on a fabulous roller coaster ride every night. Even through all of the trials and tribulation, I and Jane and the audience have gained something that's so heartening. It makes you feel so believed and uplifted that I feel like I've shared something very, very special with the audience. I'm very proud and exhilarated by that."

Courtesy of Broadway.com

To Eyre is Human

Kathy Henderson, TheatreMania.com
December 11, 2000

More than four years after Marla Schaffel first sang the title role in Jane Eyre, her Broadway "opening night" performance turned out to be a Sunday matinee filled with regular (i.e., paying) theatergoers. The usual crowd of friends, supporters, and reporters had celebrated a week earlier at a long-planned bash, but the actual opening had been delayed to December 10 due to technical problems surrounding designer John Napier's groundbreaking use of projections in the show to simulate scenic elements such as windows, gates, and various lighting effects.

One might expect that the cast would view its afternoon opening as just another weekend matinee; but the actors in Jane Eyre have been through too much together to take anything for granted. After an intense performance, the curtain call produced as much emotion as the actual show. Mary Stout, who has played the housekeeper Mrs. Fairfax in three of the four productions of the musical (Toronto, La Jolla, and Broadway), appeared close to tears. When Schaffel, who began her long journey to Broadway in a production of Jane Eyre in Wichita, Kansas, walked toward the footlights and the audience stood to applaud, she actually began to cry. Co-star James Barbour saved the day by playfully smacking Schaffel with a rubber chicken—a cast in-joke—during their final bow.

An hour later, Schaffel was laughing and kissing a cast member's baby during a post-opening champagne reception. It would be a cliché to say that she is much prettier than plain Jane Eyre, who sports the harsh, ear-circling bun that Cherry Jones wore to Tony-winning effect in The Heiress. In person, Schaffel is warm and vivacious; but she grows positively misty as she speaks of playing Charlotte Brontë's strong-minded heroine, the poor but honest governess who has become an icon to untold generations of teenage girls.

"She's the most beautiful woman ever," Schaffel declares, sipping a glass of champagne in the mezzanine of the Brooks Atkinson Theatre, wearing a chic, black leather skirt. "People say to me, 'You're too pretty to play her,' but I disagree. Jane Eyre brings out the best possible me—the most loving portion of myself. There's never the hateful, horrible human being I can be!"

Schaffel laughs, but it's obvious that she is speaking seriously. "I'm not a Christian," she says. "I was raised Jewish, so the concept of forgiveness was not something I particularly understood. But, once this character came into my life, I actually had an epiphany of forgiveness toward people in my family, and it was a great gift to know I had that capacity. I'm so grateful that I get to spend every day with Jane Eyre, because she has led me down a different path that I might not have stumbled upon on my own. She's made me a better human being, and I mean that sincerely."

Schaffel and Barbour, who spoke separately with TheaterMania during the opening party, couldn't hide their anxiety over how the show they care about so deeply will be received in New York. "The word on the street has always been the thing that will make Jane Eyre successful," Schaffel says. "It has everything a great piece of theater should have: emotion, passion, comedy, tragedy, love, and despair."

Opening on Broadway "scares the hell out of me," says Barbour, the strong-voiced leading man who played Disney's Beast on Broadway before assuming the role of Edward Rochester in Jane Eyre's pre-Broadway tryout at the La Jolla Playhouse last year. "We throw our souls out on the stage eight times a week, we give everything we have, and the criticism can be disgraceful. As soon as a show opens out of town, boom! Everyone is commenting, everyone is criticizing. All I can say is that we've had packed houses and standing ovations since we got here. It's been a wonderful journey, whatever happens."

Jane Eyre hopes to become a hit in the Secret Garden mold, presenting a musical version of a classic novel that every middle school girl (and her mother) falls in love with. What's different is the daringly dark look of the production, essentially an empty stage pierced by Napier's arresting design elements and a few movable set pieces. "In Wichita, we had a single set with a couple of moving beds," recalls Schaffel. "John Napier rethought the whole show for La Jolla. I love the black box idea, because that's true theater to me. Everything appears out of the blackness. It's just magic."

For Barbour, the magic comes in bringing to life an enigmatic antihero whom some see as villainous. "The interesting thing about the novel is that you don't know who Rochester is except through the eyes of Jane," he says. "I relied heavily on [co-director and book writer] John Caird to figure out what the character is really feeling. The hardest thing about doing the show is breaking the preconception of who Rochester actually is; so many people have seen the Orson Welles movie [1944], the William Hurt movie [1996]. Rochester is 38, not an older man. And he's probably one of the most moral human beings you'll ever meet."

Schaffel shakes her head when asked about the challenge of playing such a well-known character. "It is so daunting," she says. "My best friend since age 12 said to me the other day, 'You are on the cover of a novel. Now I'm jealous!' When I visited Charlotte Brontë's home in England, there was my face on the 150th anniversary edition of the book! That is beyond overwhelming."

In spite of the four-year delay, Schaffel always expected Jane Eyre to make it to Broadway. "You can't deny something that has this much quality connected to it—John Caird, [composer] Paul Gordon, and Charlotte Brontë," she says. "The story is just extraordinary." Not to mention the fact that she had the perfect opening night note cards ready and waiting to share with her Broadway co-stars. "I bought them at Brontë's house in 1997, after the Toronto production," Schaffel recalls with a smile. "I'd been walking the moors. In the three and half years since then, there have been so many times that I thought, 'Just send them to somebody!' But I held on to those cards, and the day finally arrived that I got to use them. I am the luckiest girl in the world."

Courtesy of TheatreMania.com

An Eyre of Elegance: Marla Schaffel's Journey with a Bronte Heroine

Robert Viagas, Show Music
December 9, 2000

NEW YORK—Picture the lonely moors of northern England on a chilly, windy day in 1997. A road winds up a long hill to a lonely parsonage house, one of the most famous literary buildings anywhere. It was the home of the Brontë sisters, Emily, Anne and Charlotte, and that same longing wind can be felt blowing through all their novels. Trudging up this road is a young slender woman, with the breeze in her chestnut hair, her dark eyebrows twisted in determination, like the heroine of a real-life Harlequin romance.

Any ghosts in the parsonage house must have been startled to see her. Because if she did not exactly resemble the house's most famous onetime residents, she certainly seems to embody one of the house's most notable creations: Jane Eyre.

Meet Marla Schaffel, who indeed plays the title character in Jane Eyre, the musical adapted from Charlotte Bronte's novel about the tortured love of a governess for her stormy employer, set on exactly those moors. And befitting the tenacity of the character she plays, Schaffel has spent five years on a career odyssey to Broadway with the role, sticking with it (and it sticking with her) through productions across North America, readings, rewrites, changing producers, money struggles and a protracted search for just the right Broadway home.

There is an epic quality to the way the actress has bent her life and career around this single stage role that finally made it to Broadway in November 2000.

"I guess the only thing I can say is that I love this project," Schaffel said. "This show, this woman, these characters, Rochester—the kind of love that they have—it's been the greatest gift of my life."

And that's part of the reason Schaffel was on a pilgrimage to the old Bronte place that day in 1997, the 150th anniversary of the novel's publication.

"I went to the house for the first time, and you could just feel the love that those sisters had for one another. The rooms were so tiny. They had her [Charlotte's] clothes and her tiny little gloves. They brought me into the private library and I got to read private letters that they wrote. I walked upstairs and the original manuscript was there. It was on loan from the British Museum. It's under glass. It's this big, huge volume and it was all written in her hand. I could see where she had crossed out one word and replaced it with another. They had it opened to the page where Rochester proposes to her. And when I saw those words, 'Yes sir. I will marry you,' I burst into tears."

Schaffel got to hear composer Paul Gordon's songs for the first time when she walked into a 1995 audition, without even having read the novel. Like director John Caird, Schaffel had a Les Mis connection, the Juilliard-trained actress having made her Broadway debut as a swing in that show, covering Fantine, among others But Shaffel said that instead of the expected Broadway exhilaration she found her work in that show to be stifling. " I was so unhappy because it was so not creative. After a year at it, I was really dead inside. And I made a promise to myself: after that I would only do either things that I've never done before, roles that I want to do, or something completely new."

What Schaffel found upon walking into the audition for Jane Eyre was a role that—despite the show's three-hour and forty-five minute running time—seemed to satisfy all of her requirements. "It was so specific and clear that I felt I didn't need to read the novel. I was immediately inspired by it and the way Paul feels the words and expresses them musically. It was so true, it just touched me beyond belief."

Schaffel said she was powerfully drawn to the role from the first rehearsal. "It was her [Jane Eyre's] capacity for feeling, her depth of feeling, her spirituality, her being in touch with things that are not of this world and yet really being a part of this world. And her clarity of vision as to other people's characters, her sense of right and wrong—not necessarily judging, but knowing what is true what is true for her."

And the feeling turned out to be mutual. Co-producer Annette Niemtzow said Schaffel was the first and only choice to play Jane. "Marla is an extraordinary actress with an extraordinary voice, who has excited people in the theatre community for some time now, waiting for her to declare herself in an important role. Marla was always Jane Eyre. This was a role she was born to play. Marla is on the stage 31 out of 36 scenes. John Caird says Jane Eyre is the longest role for an actress in musical theater. Marla is more than up to the challenge." For its December 1996 world premiere, Jane Eyre was produced by Toronto entrepreneurs David and Ed Mirvish, who, in the mid 1990s, were locked in a battle for supremacy with Toronto rival Livent Ltd., and its charismatic chairman, Garth Drabinsky. In fall 1996, the two producing entities were at the height of their puissance and were prepared to take their best shots, Mirvish with the $6 million Jane Eyre and Livent with the $11 million (or so he said at the time) Ragtime. Both shows were advertised as Broadway-bound. Ragtime opened on Dec. 8, 1996, but Jane Eyre beat it to the curtain by opening Nov. 22, 1996.

Ragtime got the raves and moved on to Broadway the following year. Jane Eyre got less enthusiastic reviews—though they seemed worse than they actually were when contrasted with those of Ragtime. Plans to open Jane Eyre in spring of 1997 on Broadway were quietly shelved. Niemtzow, part of the producing team that took over from the Mirvishes in 1998, calls the Toronto premiere, "a developmental production—big because of the Royal Alex[andra] Theater in Toronto—but raw and developmental. There were many reasons [that] what should have been a quiet production became a premature launching for the show. [New York] Press in Toronto to see Ragtime stopped to see Jane, who was just a babe learning to walk."

The failure of Jane Eyre to move directly to Broadway started one of the most difficult periods in Shaffel's life—one that has ultimately defined her career. Because, while the show had not triumphed, neither had it bombed. That left Shaffel and the creative team in one of the unique hells of the Broadway musical: rewrite gulch. Jane Eyre's creators were determined to see the show succeed, and so did its new set of producers. But musicals in development are voracious monsters that gobble money and time in appalling quantities. Jane Eyre may yet prove to be the tortoise to Ragtime's hare, but years of rewrites, workshops and searches for cash lay ahead. And no one could tell how long the quest for the Grail of a Broadway opening night would take.

And that left Schaffel in her own special corner office of this limbo. She wanted the role and the producers wanted her. She was now at the height of her power, talent, youth and beauty. If she stayed attached to the project, she would get no extra money and would effectively cut herself off from committing other long-term jobs. If she took the other jobs, she'd likely lose the chance to star in a Broadway musical mega-role written especially for her.

What would you do?

Schaffel was unwilling to let go completely. Perhaps she had already lived too long inside the skin of an indomitable heroine to just walk away and audition for sitcoms. Perhaps Jane's long journey through the wilderness (after her wedding is disrupted by news of Rochester's mad first wife in the attic) gave Schaffel the impossible hope that things would turn out well in the end.

In any case, she decided to keep the faith—and began life on a tether to Jane Eyre. Shaffel said, "John, Paul and I stayed in touch with one another all the time. That connection was always there. The tether was more the powers that be who assume that you are going to be there and don't take into account what you've given up to make yourself available. I think it's a general problem between producers and actors. They don't say, 'Oh we know you turned down such-and-such, which would have been this much money.' They should at least give them a gift or a token—something—of thanks. That's what feels like a tether, because it goes unappreciated."

Which is not to say that Shaffel didn't work at all. Far from it. Among her projects during the late 1990s: The original workshop of Titanic, creating the role of Kate McGowan. (Schaffel returned to the show for a period later in its Broadway run.)

Did the decision have an adverse effect on her career? "It had an adverse effect on my bank account," she said. "Without question."

Did she ever consider walking away? "It's been very frustrating. I think had the movie (I Love You...Don't Touch Me!) done differently and MGM not just put it on the shelf, I might have. So I think everything happens for a reason."

What made her stay? "Because I'm partly an idealist, and I always believed in this project, from the first reading. I thought it was brilliant, John is brilliant, Paul is incredibly brilliant. I think that gifts like this don't come along very often. Working with people who respect you and listen to you doesn't come along very often."

Mary Stout, who has played the role of Rochester's housekeeper through all the iterations of Jane Eyre, and watched Schaffel grow in the role, said, "The challenge in the 'serpentine' journey [of Jane Eyre] has been one of faith in a very base, passionate, spiritual project. When you see audiences crying and moved by what they are seeing and know that, despite mixed reviews (which has been a history with our show), people are moved and affected in a very real way, you have to believe. It's been a hard road—but for both me and Marla, the carrot was bigger than the journey." But, for Schaffel, the heart of the show remains. "I have to believe that the show will be successful because I know that the people love it. Whether or not critics love it is one thing. People love it the way I love it. Because it contains everything that I go to the theatre to see. It's emotional. It's funny. It's moving. It's thrilling. It's romantic and it's human and you learn something. Everyone goes, 'Oh, it's a woman's novel. It's a woman's novel.' But only if you are afraid of emotion is it a woman's novel. I think anybody who feels walks away with something. I mean even men, every so often you see them at the end, crying."

Courtesy of BroadwayOnline.com

Giving voice to Jane Eyre

Alexis Greene, The Cleveland Plain Dealer
November 26, 2000

Nobody promised Marla Schaffel it would be easy.

It was 1995 when Schaffel, a dark-haired actress with an enticing soprano voice, performed the role of Jane Eyre at the first public reading of John Caird and Paul Gordon's musicalization of the Charlotte Bronte novel.

Now it is 2000. More readings, several workshops and two pre-Broadway productions later, Jane Eyre will finally open at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre in New York Dec. 3, and Schaffel will star in a part to which she has devoted much of her young career.

"It's been very hard," says Schaffel, talking about the last half-decade during an interview at her Jersey City, N.J., apartment. Schaffel, two rambunctious Australian shepherds named Hotspur and Illyria, and one intimidated cat recently moved from Manhattan to a row house here. "The highs have been great, and the disappointments have been great. I'm not a very excitable person anyway, but we're on Broadway, and I think I should be going 'Whooeee'—you know, dancing in the street. But it's just another day in a show that I love dearly. Because it has been five years."

Musicals are notoriously difficult to birth, requiring skilled collaboration as well as large numbers of dollars. But Jane Eyre has had a harder labor than most. A 1995 workshop in Wichita, Kan., led Canada-based producer and theater owner David Mirvish to take the show to Toronto in 1996, with an eye toward Broadway. But mixed reviews returned the creative team to the drawing board.

By the time Jane Eyre had its second pre-Broadway stand in 1999, at La Jolla Playhouse in California, Caird's book and Gordon's score had gone through numerous changes, and American Scott Schwartz had joined Englishman Caird as co-director; James Barbour had replaced Anthony Crivello in the leading role of Edward Rochester, the moody, secretive owner of Thornfield Hall, where the orphaned Jane Eyre is hired as a governess; and Mirvish had departed.

"After Toronto," Schaffel recalls, "there was a reading where I felt I no longer had an active character to play. And I was very clear to them at the end of that reading that we were not going in the right direction. And part of that has been the struggle about whether and how the ensemble should be the voice of Jane. But Jane just became an incredibly passive character. And that's not for me."

Bound for the arts

Inaction is not Schaffel's approach to life, onstage or off. Raised in what she describes as the "cultural wasteland" of Miami, Schaffel nonetheless decided that she wanted to be in the arts. She just didn't know which art to choose.

"I started studying piano at 6; I wanted to be a classical pianist," the 32-year-old actress relates about her childhood exuberance. "I started studying ballet and I wanted to be a ballet dancer. I always sang, and I wanted to be an opera singer."

"When I was 10 or 11," she remembers, "I saw Teresa Stratas perform Mimi in La Boheme at the Metropolitan Opera. It rocked my world. She was the most spectacular actress I had laid eyes on. She was so vulnerable, and her physicality was so beautiful. When the sound came out of her, and she was hunched over, it just came from her bowels. She threw caution to the wind when she was performing. I decided I wanted to be that kind of actress."

In 1990, Schaffel graduated from the acting program at New York City's Juilliard School. Four years later, with hard-won credits on her resume, including a stint as Fantine in the endlessly running Les Misérables, she auditioned for Caird, who had directed Les Miz. He was looking for a singer-actress to play Jane Eyre for a reading at Manhattan Theatre Club.

"I remember wearing my hair up for that audition," says Schaffel, "and trying to be as small as I possibly could. Jane Eyre is supposed to be very short. Bronte herself was not even 5 feet. And she is supposed to be plain. I wore flats and a dress and no makeup whatsoever."

"I sang my normal songs," Schaffel recalls, "which is one really high soprano number and one big belt number, and then John asked for a monologue—I had been asked to prepare a Shakespeare monologue. It was some compilation of Portia's lines from The Merchant of Venice, and I went up on my lines in the middle of it. And John totally fed me the lines, to help get me on track. I was stunned. And I was mortified."

Only one choice

Schaffel was the only actress Caird called back for the role.

"I saw all the qualities of Jane in Marla," the director said during a recent telephone conversation. "Spiritual and emotional intensity and intelligence. The actress playing Jane has to be able to think and convey to an audience that she is thinking. Marla has the clarity and analytical powers essential for playing a Bronte heroine."

Because of Schaffel's commitment to Jane Eyre, at times it feels as though her career is on hold while she waits for productions of Eyre to materialize. Even after La Jolla, months passed before the producers found a suitable, and available, Broadway house, and last summer Schaffel used the time to star in Enter the Guardsman, an off-Broadway musical.

Finding her way into the role after a hiatus also brings challenges. "Jane's openness and vulnerability are the hardest things to get back to," says Schaffel. "I'm not generally a very vulnerable person, and it's hard for me to open myself every time we start the show again. Also, I've changed so much in five years, and my life has changed drastically—I was married around the time I got the show and now I'm no longer with my husband—that I have to remind myself to remember the unjaded, youthful side of Jane. Each time it becomes a process of tearing down my walls.

"It has continued to be difficult," says Schaffel, "but it has continued to be great."

Courtesy of The Cleveland Plain Dealer

TUTS takes a 'Sound' approach to Maria

Everett Evans, Houston Chronicle
July 3, 2003

Marla Schaffel brings impeccable credentials to her role as Maria in Theatre Under the Stars' The Sound of Music, opening Sunday at Miller Outdoor Theatre.

The last time Schaffel played a governess—her memorable title performance as Broadway's Jane Eyre—she gathered a sheaf of rave reviews and a 2001 Tony nomination as best actress in a musical.

Both shows cast Schaffel as a orphan who is hired as a governess, bonds with her charge(s) and winds up falling in love with the aloof master of the house.

The gothic Jane Eyre and the sunny Sound of Music represent dark and light variations on the theme. As Jane, Schaffel endured a good deal of stoic suffering before her eventual happy ending. As Maria, she simply remembers her favorite things and teaches the kids to sing; even the Nazi invasion of Austria can't get her down for long.

Yet Schaffel objects when Sound of Music critics call the show sugary and its heroine a goody-two-shoes.

"I don't see it that way at all," Schaffel says. "Maria is a strong-minded young woman. I don't think anyone who speaks to her boss as she does to Captain von Trapp, who stands up to authority figures as she does, fits the gooey description some have given her."

Schaffel loved her demanding role in Jane Eyre. "It was one of those opportunities that just don't come along all that often." A musical of distinction, a big hit in its pre-Broadway run at La Jolla (Calif.) Playhouse, the show got a more mixed reception on Broadway. Despite some ardent admirers, it had a modest six-month run.

"I think timing was a large factor," Schaffel says, noting that Jane Eyre was a heartfelt, romantic show in a season when everyone was awaiting the arrival of Mel Brooks' glitzy, zany The Producers, which swept that year's Tonys.

Schaffel's other Broadway credits have been in comparably serious-minded shows, such as Titanic and Les Miserables.

"I've enjoyed the opportunity to be in shows that are cast not so much with singers as with actors who sing well. I studied acting at Juilliard and though I've wound up cast in a lot of musicals, I think in terms of a play with songs, where music is necessary to express the intensity of emotions. I'm approaching The Sound of Music in the same way."

Playing Maria for the first time, Schaffel gets to sing a beloved Rodgers and Hammerstein score that most musical fans—herself included—have known by heart since childhood. It's a score strongly associated with two legendary stars—Mary Martin in the original 1959 Broadway production and Julie Andrews in the 1965 film version.

"You do have to go the extra mile when a role is so well-known and so associated with a famous performer," Schaffel says. "I have Julie's voice and phrasing in my head. Hers was a voice I listened to and it was she who inspired me to sing. I'm lucky to have a director (Drew Scott Harris) who is encouraging me to find my own way to do it."

The Houston run at Miller is the first stop for this six-month tour, which is co-produced by TUTS and a dozen other regional musical companies. The production has been mounted at Atlanta's Theatre Of The Stars, where Schaffel last season played Eliza in My Fair Lady.

"When (TOTS chief) Chris Manos called and asked me about doing this show, I jumped at the chance," Schaffel says. "How often does a Jewish girl get a chance to be in a convent?"

Starring opposite Schaffel as Captain von Trapp is Burke Moses, who originated the role of Gaston in the stage version of Beauty and the Beast (including its pre-Broadway run at TUTS). He also took over male leads in the hit Broadway revivals of Guys and Dolls and Kiss Me, Kate.

Courtesy of Houston Chronicle

Actress finds the kid inside Maria: 'Sound of Music' star emphasizes youth

Martin F. Kohn, Detroit Free Press
September 29, 2003

Just mention The Sound of Music and everybody thinks of Julie Andrews—or Mary Martin, if they're theater snobs. So not only does the main character, Maria Rainer, arrive at the Von Trapp mansion with a suitcase or two, whoever plays her carries a different set of baggage. What's an actress to do? How do you shake off the big-screen specter of Julie Andrews and make the role fresh?

How, in effect, do you solve a problem like Maria?

The same way you'd face any acting challenge, says Marla Schaffel, who brings considerable Broadway and regional experience to the touring production of The Sound of Music, Tuesday through Sunday at the Fox Theatre.

"I kind of approach it as if it's never been done before, because it's certainly never been done before by me," Schaffel says by telephone from her parents' place in Miami during a few days off.

Even as a child, Schaffel says, she took issue with the way Maria was portrayed. "I remember watching Julie Andrews, and to me she was so mature and grounded, so womanly...When they described her as being a will o' the wisp and a whirling dervish I never really felt that from her. So I try to be more of that, more of a kid."

Indeed, neither Andrews nor Mary Martin emphasized Maria's coltish aspect. "I," said Schaffel, "try to bring more of her wildness into the show so that when she becomes a woman at the end, to deal with the Nazis and the children and all of that responsibility, that there's really a very clear arc to her growth."

Audiences who just want to sit back and enjoy the songs in Rodgers and Hammerstein's final musical may not care whether Maria is first seen as 20 going on 21, or 39 going on 40. But it matters to Schaffel.

The show begins at a convent where Maria is a postulant nun. It's an emotionally secure environment for a young woman, free from the risks that come with loving another person, Schaffel says. There, "she can devote her life to God. There's a certain safety in that decision.

"But the Mother Abbess knows that it's the wrong thing for her," and dispatches Maria to work as a governess for the children of the widower Capt. Von Trapp.

"Opening herself up to loving another person and how that changes her is very fortifying for an audience because they can relate to it."

The character's struggle, Schaffel says, is "to realize that to love other human beings is an equally fulfilling journey on behalf of God. That takes strength."

This being a musical, it also takes pipes, which is the main reason Schaffel is here. Mining the richness of dramatic literature may be one of her favorite things—"I love Shakespeare," she says, "I love O'Neill and Williams. That kind of intense scene work is what I live for"—but Schaffel is known primarily as a singer. Her Broadway credits include Les Miserables, Titanic and the title role in the 2000 musical Jane Eyre, for which she received reviewers' accolades and a Tony nomination as best actress. (Jane Eyre itself was not so well-received and ran for only six months.)

Even as a child in Miami, Schaffel's ambition was to be on the stage. "I had wanted to be an opera singer," she says, and when she was 12 or 13 her parents took her to New York to see La Boheme at the Metropolitan Opera. Soprano Teresa Stratas sang the lead role, and young Marla was more than impressed. "Her voice was beautiful, but she was the greatest actress I had ever seen," Schaffel says. "I was moved beyond what I thought anyone could possibly move me. It just was beyond words and it really changed my life. It made me realize I wanted to move people in that way...That's when my focus completely shifted and I just studied theater."

After high school Schaffel attended Juilliard and has been working consistently as an actor since she graduated. That doesn't mean she always knows what her next job will be. The Sound of Music tour says so long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, good-bye Nov. 16 in New Haven, Conn. And then?

"I'm dying to get back to some plays," Schaffel says. "I'm talking to a couple of producers."

Courtesy of Detroit Free Press

A Favorite Thing

Michael Grossberg, The Columbus Dispatch
October 6, 2003

With fans of The Sound of Music, familiarity breeds content.

"People come in the theater humming the tunes," said Burke Moses, who plays Capt. von Trapp in the touring show. "You think of this old, dried chestnut, but, when the captain is tearing up in Edelweiss, it's amazing how much of the audience is right there with you. That's why classic shows like this are done over and over."

To launch its new Family Series, the Columbus Association for the Performing Arts will present The Sound of Music beginning Tuesday in the Palace Theatre. "A number of Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals lend themselves to families," said Bill Conner, CAPA president, "and there's something wonderful and powerful for kids to see kids onstage."...

"What we really needed here," Conner said, "is a family series where people can see quality programs—music and dance—in one season."

Moses, who is married with two children, relates to the family focus. "Having children makes it a lot easier to understand the captain," he said. "He's a widow and losing his country, and he feels that making his children into soldiers is perhaps a way to protect them—and to distance himself—from the memory of his wife."

The actor is co-starring in the national tour after originating the cartoonish role of Gaston in Beauty and the Beast on Broadway and reprising the part in Los Angeles and London. More recently, he played Fred Graham/Petruchio in the Broadway revival of Kiss Me Kate.

"The laughs were like a drug," Moses said. "Who wouldn't miss that? But the captain is far more subtle and delicate, and the pressure to carry the show is not on me. That's Marla's burden."

Marla Schaffel, a 2001 Tony nominee for her title role in Jane Eyre, plays Maria. The actress sees parallels between the characters.

"Both women find such joy in freedom and being outside," Schaffel said. "Jane Eyre had to be so restrained because of the world; Maria is lighter because she is more overt."

Although she had the "greatest joy" in originating the musical role of Jane Eyre, Schaffel appreciated the chance to develop a fresh approach to the lovable nun who becomes the von Trapp governess—and later the captain's wife.

"I like to be creative and part of the process of creating a role, whether it's a new role or a classic role in a classic Rodgers and Hammerstein musical," she said. "Even in my head, the role is so associated with Julie Andrews. I could hear her inflections in the song and dialogue. Of course, it is different because I'm not her."

Schaffel plays Maria as a younger "whirling dervish"—"more of what they sing about." "Because she's younger, the journey she makes in becoming a wife and mother and partner to the captain becomes clearer."

Before she romances the captain, though, Maria faces a rival. Elsa the baroness is played by Colleen Fitzpatrick, a Lancaster native who has appeared on Broadway in Cats, Passion, Company and Into the Woods. The former Miss Teenage Columbus last performed in central Ohio with the 1997 Metro Music Theatre production of Kwamina.

"My job as the baroness is to be in love with the captain," Fitzpatrick said. "The baroness is a rich woman of the era, not as contemporary in how she expresses her feelings. Because of her rank, she's a bit more reserved, but she just keeps trying to win the captain over. Everyone knows the show so well....It's wonderful to play her (the baroness), but I have to fight against feeling that the audience doesn't like her or doesn't understand her, because everyone wants to see the captain and Maria end up together.

"We all remember the movie, so we have that in our minds. But, of course, Marla is not Julie, and Burke is not Christopher (Plummer), and I am not Eleanor Powell. It's fascinating to see other actors tackle a familiar role and make it their own."

Courtesy of The Columbus Dispatch

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