JANE AUSTEN BRINGS HOLIDAY CHEER TO THEATREWORKS AS THE BENNET FAMILY CELEBRATES THE SEASON
FOUNDER OF THEATREWORKS ROBERT KELLEY ENDS HIS TONY WINNING CAREER WITH THE WORLD PREMIERE OF PAUL GORDON’S ‘PRIDE AND PREJUDICE’
TheatreWorks continues its 50th year celebration with another gift for Bay Area theatre audiences; their world premiere of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE. Jane Austen’s Bennet family welcomes the TheatreWorks Holiday season with another terrific new musical from Tony nominated composer and playwright Paul Gordon. The elegant new work is now on stage at the Lucie Stern Theatre only through January 4th. Gordon’s Jane Austen franchise of sorts has included productions of EMMA and SENSE AND SENSIBILITY at the Silicon Valley theatre thinktank, plus his Tony-nominated adaptation of Charlotte Brontë’s JANE EYRE also graced the TheatreWorks stage. Artistic Director and founder Robert Kelley closes out his 50 year run at TheatreWorks staging Gordon’s musical and says; “We consider our holiday shows a special gift to our community. This years gift is a beloved novel turned musical Pride and Prejudice overflowing with romance, laughter, and resonant themes.”
TheatreWorks Silicon Valley is the recipient of the 2019 Regional Theatre Tony Award, and PRIDE AND PREJUDICE marks TheatreWorks’s 70th World Premiere. Jane Austen's PRIDE AND PREJUDICE has been staged in the past as "First Impressions," a 1959 Broadway show that took its name from the title of Austen's original manuscript. This latest tune-filled version of the novel is streamlined with a terrific score including 29 new songs with the banner anthem “A Single Man of Good Fortune” performed by the entire 19 member company.
It is a story we all know, one resounding with the familiar Austen themes of love, honor, and duty, and focusing on the five Bennet sisters, whose anxious mother wishes to secure perfect matches all for her daughters, and whose warm distant father simply wants his girls to be happy. The focus narrows, of course, to the romance between second daughter Elizabeth Bennet played by the charming Mary Mattison who opens with the wonderful song “Headstrong” and proves her stunning voice. The sexiest arrogant, Mr. Darcy played by the perfect Justin Mortelliti sings the revealing song “The World We Live In” as his introduction to the story. Elizabeth sets the tone for the story and narrates interplay and subtext of the Bennet family. Marriage in this Austen world is a rich code that must be followed and fit the rules of their society.
Gordon's compositions effectively retain the tone of the novel and makes this new work delightful and full of Pride. Conor Keelan's orchestrations and arrangements brought a more modern sound to the 1811 era. Music director William Liberatore has an accomplished six member band that includes percussionist Artie Storch to give the score that pop edge. The charming wit of the unwelcome Mr. Collins played by the skilled Brian Herndon sings “Lovely Creatures” with the Bennet sisters and the worry-induced and controlling mother of five daughters Mrs. Bennet played by local favorite Heather Orth. It is a pleasure to see Orth finally take the stage at TheatreWorks. She is one of the Bay Area’s most award honored actors. Orth is featured in the opening number “Happiness in Marriage” and later with all the Bennett women in the dramatic “Disgrace”. The Bennet sisters include Melissa WolfKlain, Sharon Rietkerk, Tara Kostmayer, and the delightful Chanel Tilghman, they are all excellent in the reprise of “A Single Man.”
The featured roles in the story all are keen and polished and include Lucinda Hitchcock Cone who is a kick as Lady Catherine de Bourgh, the society matchmaker; also Dani Macus as Georgiana Darcy, alongside the marvelous Travis Leland as Mr. Bingley and Monique Hafen Adams the role of Caroline Bingley steals the show in a minor role and Taylor Crousore plays George Wickham. The distinguished Christopher Vettel, a TheatreWorks favorite, plays the key role of the family anchor Mr Bennet and is always impeccable on Bay Area stages.The splendid Sean Fenton, Samantha Ayoob, Michelle Skinner, Heather Mae Steffen and Seton Chiang fill out the many other Austen characters.
Director Kelley has staged over 175 productions and for this show he was able to draw the attention where it needs to be, and equal credit should go to his elegant company. Choreographer Dottie Lester White brings some classic waltz with exquisite flow. The design team is excellent. Pamila Z Gray’ evocative lighting design includes a chandelier hanging center house at the Lucie Stern. Joe Ragey's set design includes some point on projections that take you directly to the Jane Austen world, and a multiple lever stage that gave the sold out opening night audience an endless view of the Bennett home. The sound design by Brendan Aanes filled the Lucie Stern with Gordon’s lively more modern score. Fumiko Bielefeldt’s period costumes are splendid and dialect coach Kimberly Mohne Hill kept the company in classic Austen grammar.
The Pride; Elizabeth and Darcy battle with their feelings and the Prejudice: they both learn the rules of love as they sing “Sweet Persuasion” to end the musical. PRIDE AND PREJUDICE remains one of the most read books in American Lit. It is a sure bet that this new stunning production will see the lights of Broadway. Paul Gordon is at his best with this new work and as Kelley mentioned in his program notes; this is truly a Holiday gift. Next up at TheatreWorks is THE PIANIST OF WILLESDEN LANE that starts performances January 15th, and THEY PROMISED HER THE MOON starts performances March 4. RAGTIME begins April 1. But in the meantime join the lovely Bennet family for the Holiday Season.
THEATREWORKS SILICON VALLEY PRESENTS A WORLD PREMIERE
A NEW MUSICAL FOR THE HOLIDAYS
PRIDE AND PREJUDICE
Book, Music, and Lyrics by Paul Gordon
Directed by Robert Kelley
TheatreWorks’s 70th World Premiere
Must Close January 4, 2020
Lucie Stern Theatre
1305 Middlefield Rd., Palo Alto
Two hours 30 min with one intermission
Photo Credit: Kevin Berne