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  • Alexandra Garfield

Austen for the Holidays

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a musical based off of a well-known Jane Austen novel, must be a delightful TheatreWorks holiday show. Well... maybe not a universally-acknowledged truth, but certainly a boon for long-time fans of collaborations between TheatreWorks Silicon Valley and Paul Gordon who has written other musicals including Daddy Long Legs and Jane Austen's Emma. I was lucky enough to see the original production of Emma when I was in middle school and have been humming the title song every since.

His latest adaptation is simultaneously the most obvious choice and the most risky. Once of the most-loved books of all time, Pride and Prejudice has been adapted into countless TV, stage and movie versions over the years and even another (less good) musical. But Paul Gordon has brought his signature insight and thoughtfulness to this production in a way that elevates the story and opens up new layers for the audience to appreciate. Because of this I would recommend using this show as an appreciation of the story rather than an introduction. Although you certainly could go to this show without known the story of Pride and Prejudice, I think the experience is enhanced by already knowing the story.

The show follows the novel quite closely, as headstrong Elizabeth (Lizzy) Bennet and her four sisters attempt to find love and "happiness in marriage" amidst English nobility in the early 19th century. Along the way, her shy sister Jane meets and falls in love with the equally sweet-tempered Mr. Bingley and her youngest sister Lydia ends up in a precarious situation. But when Lizzy meets the ill-mannered but rich Mr. Darcy—love, marriage and reputations might be changed forever.

The music in this production is quite good, although more modern than some of Gordon's other works. Lizzy's opening song, "Headstrong" seems destined to become a favorite audition song for young women around the country. Lady Catherine's song "Her Ladyship's Praise" is likewise delightful and sure to go far in the audition world. I also greatly enjoyed songs in act two including "My Sister Jane" and "Not the Man That I Know."

However it's some earlier songs that I'd like to point out. Jane and Bingly's song, "More than Hello" about their shyness and Darcy's opening song, "The World We Live In," are great examples of how a musical can expand the emotional world of the book and why Paul Gordon's adaptations are so emotional. What these two songs do that the source material never does, is show us the innermost thoughts and feelings of the men in the story early on. In the novel, the narration closely follows Lizzie and her thoughts as her opinions change and it is only upon a second or third reading that the reader is able to deduce that men's actions actually mean something quite different than what Lizzie believes they do. This can also be seen in Gordon's other works, and sets him apart as a storyteller because instead of adapting the work as the author wrote it, he expands on the emotions of the piece, forcing the audience to watch as different parties misunderstand each other. Even though the audience is privy to Darcy's admiration and affection for Lizzy, his inability to effectively communicate those feelings leads to her rejection of him at the end of act one. But these songs add a tension for the audience because they see what the characters simply can't know.

The cast was also great. I was particularly impressed by Jusin Mortelliti's performance as Mr. Darcy. His voice is phenomenal and he also is able to be emotive while still maintaining Darcy's signature stoicness. However, it was Mrs. Bennet and Lady Cathrine De Bourgh who stole the show. Heather Orth played the intense and motivated mother of five daughters of marriageable age to perfection. She balanced the inherent silliness of the character without making her feel like a caricature, which she can often seem like from Lizzy's pragmatic perspective. Lucinda Hitchcock Cone swept in as Lady Cathrine with one of the funniest songs in the show and absolutely made you believe she was a lady of importance who must be obeyed. She was so convincing that I hardly noticed that she also played the mild mannered and perceptive Mrs. Gardiner in another scene.

This is a show that you will not want to miss. If you like the story of Pride and Prejudice, any of Jane Austen's other works, Paul Gordon's other shows, or just a good old fashioned romance, this show is going to wow and delight you. Tickets are getting snapped up very quickly, as they often do for TheatreWorks' holiday shows, so be sure to grab them soon.

Pride and Prejudice, the musical from TheatreWorks Silicon Valley and Paul Gordon is playing now through January 4, 2020, at the Lucie Stern Center for the Performing Arts. Tickets range $30-$100 with discounts available for educators, seniors, active military and patrons under 35.

Photos courtesy of Kevin Berne


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