Sunday, December 29, 2019

Pride and Prejudice: the musical

World premiere of this Austen adaptation at TheatreWorks Silicon Valley (Lucie Stern Theatre, Palo Alto), going on through January 4. Written and composed by Paul Gordon, who's also given the world similar adaptations of Sense and Sensibility, Emma, and Jane Eyre.

To make time for the songs (though they're pretty brisk and efficient ones here), musicals require even more condensation of a novel than spoken plays do, and this one paints Austen's characters in pretty broad strokes. Every time in the first act that Lizzy (Mary Mattison) and Darcy (Justin Mortelliti) have an argument, it's immediately succeeded by a soliloquy song in which Darcy exclaims how ravishing he finds her. The second act is similarly filled with soliloquy songs for Lizzy exclaiming on the new light in which she sees Darcy.

Despite its brevity, it gives Lizzy a lot to say. She already says a lot in the book, but everything else you've always wished she could say to the plot's assorted fatheads, she says it here. For instance, after telling Wickham (Taylor Crousore) off, he stalks offstage, and Lizzy turns to the audience and says, "That felt fabulous!"

Most of the letters read by characters are depicted by having the character who wrote them appear downstage to give the text. Naturally, the patent insincerity of the greetings of Miss Bingley (Monique Hafen Adams) are most amusing. Some characters are a bit sketchy: all five sisters are there, but pretty much all that Mary (Melissa WolfKlain) gets to do is introduce the scene changes.

The songs are not particularly memorable, but they're pleasant, and are well placed to underline emotions. The most effective was the song for Jane (Sharon Rietkerk) in which she acknowledges that Bingley (Travis Leland) seems to have given her up, in which she sadly describes him as being now merely "a man of my acquaintance."

The actors are mostly Equity professionals. They act well; I'm not so sure how well they sing. The sets (just a few furnishings scattered here and there) and costumes are good, but the amplification was horribly tinny and hard to get used to. The instruments, at least, are live and not synthesized.

Lizzy is dressed and made up in a way that resembles Saoirse Ronan playing Jo March. (I've been immersing myself in old adaptations of Little Women in anticipation of seeing the new movie, and the parallels in character between Jo and Meg on the one hand, and Lizzy and Jane on the other, are striking. The other sisters on each side, not so much.) Darcy facially resembles a young Richard Burton, and has the iron-laced speaking voice of James Mason, though his singing voice is higher and smoother. Mr Collins (Brian Herndon) bears the facial mien of Alan Rickman: think Snape, but without the hair. But the same actor plays Mr Gardiner, and then looks entirely different. Mrs Bennet is written to be a flibbertigibit, but Heather Orth doesn't play her that way, which is refreshing. Mr Bennet (Christopher Vettel) is more sympathetic than sarcastic. Lady Catherine (Lucinda Hitchcock Cone) swoops down with all the pomposity one could desire.

I enjoyed this and am very glad I saw it.

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