Jane Austen’s novels have resonated down the years, through two centuries, and have been the foundation for myriad interpretations. The latest version is an ambitious musical now playing at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego.
With book, music and lyrics by Paul Gordon, the production features an extremely appealing cast, an innovative scenic design (Kevin Depinet) and excellent direction by Barbara Gaines.
Instead of the traditional graveyard opening, we see the grieving Dashwood sisters Marianne (Megan McGinnis) and Elinor (Sharon Rietkerk) contemplating their misfortune on the death of their father. “Darker Shade Than Grief” sets the stage of the classic riches-to-rags story, and the audience travels with the siblings as they move from their ancestral home to the semi-welcome embrace of relatives.
Invariably, gentlemen callers arrive and the sisters gravitate accordingly. Rietkerk’s confident portrayal of the contemplative and confident Elinor contrasts nicely with McGinnis’s equally confident interpretation of the emotional and spontaneous Marianne.
Wayne Alan Wilcox inhabits the role of Edward Ferrars so completely that not only is Elinor smitten, the audience is as well. The steadfast Colonel Brandon is always there to support the sisters, and his commanding presence is ably handled by Sean Allan Krill. Paula Scrofano offers delightful comedic relief as the bubbly Mrs. Jennings.
With a mostly static set, clever lighting (Donald Holder) and sound design (Ray Nardelli) evoke the myriad English settings circa 1792. With props flying in from the side and above, the cast moves nimbly from room to room, city to city, indoors to outdoors.
Gordon’s music and lyrics are the element which provides the production’s strength. The solid plot has clearly withstood the test of time, but memorable melodies (such as “Have I the Right” and “Wrong Side of Five and Thirty”) are a delight.
The first act sweeps by quickly, as each character is introduced and fleshed out. The sisters’ plight is evident, and only becomes more convoluted in the second act. By the time Elinor sings “Not Even You” and then “Stow Away” in the middle of the second act, the sisters’ situation is nearing rock bottom. It may take a song or two too long, but soon the pieces of their better fortune begin to take shape.
Austen’s novels have been enjoyed in wildly disparate formats, from Bollywood films to brain numbing and brain eating novels (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and its inevitable sequel Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters). The 1995 film version of Sense and Sensibility was a massive hit, due to the collective talents of director Ang Lee and the cast of Emma Thompson, Hugh Grant, Kate Winslet and the late Alan Rickman.
The Old Globe’s production comes by way of a collaboration with the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre. It assembles all the elements for a delightful evening and a long run, and will undoubtedly keep the Austen canon in the public’s eye even longer.