The Dashwood Sisters sing, and gloriously so, in Paul Gordon’s charming, witty, heartstrings-tugging musical adaptation of Jane Austen’s Sense And Sensibility, Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s gift, not just to San Diego’s Old Globe Theatre and Jane Austen lovers across the Southland, but to anyone in the mood for music, laughter, tears, and romance-with-a-capital-R.
Movie buffs will recognize Elinor and Marianne Dashwood (brought to indelible cinematic life by Emma Thompson and Kate Winslett), early 19th-century sisters denied by English law the inheritance rights women take for granted these days.
It doesn’t help that their recently deceased father’s heir, the sisters’ half-brother John, has been cajoled by his money-grubbing wife Fanny into pocketing the evicted Dashwood girls’ three-thousand pounds per annum their father had intended as their due. (That’s about a hundred thousand dollars a year in contemporary currency.)
The cottage offered them by cousin Sir John Middleton does provide Elinor and Marianne with a place to live, but if either young woman is to find any sort of future financial security, marital matches must be made.
Fortunately for both Dashwoods, prospects soon appear in the persons of Fanny’s brother Edward (whose friendship with Elinor might well lead to wedding bells) and Mr. Willoughby (the dashing stranger who comes to an injured rain-drenched Marianne’s rescue one stormy night). And should things not work out between Elinor and Edward, there’s always Colonel Brandon waiting patiently “on the wrong side of five-and-thirty” for the elder Miss Dashwood to pay him romantic heed.
It should come as no surprise to any Austen fan that obstacles will be popping up along the road to wedded bliss, a previously unmentioned engagement and rumors of an unforgivable past indiscretion among them.
What sets The Old Globe’s Sense And Sensibility apart from S&As before it are its two-dozen songs, and who better to write them than master tunesmith Gordon, whose Jane Austen’s Emma enchanted Old Globe audiences in 2011.
Not only are Gordon’s melodies the epitome of exquisite, his lyrics permit Austen heroes and heroines to reveal their hearts as mere dialog never could.
As for triple-threat Gordon’s book, not only does it manage to compact Austen’s four-hundred-plus-page novel to a couple hours and change, it does so with a contemporary sensibility that provides added chuckles to 21st-century ears.
Sense And Sensibility’s West Coast Premiere reunites the 2015 Chicago Shakes lineup—directorial whiz Barbara Gaines, ace musical director/conductor Laura Bergquist, and virtually the entire cast and production design team—to create magic on the Donald And Darlene Shiley Stage.
Sharon Rietkerk and Megan McGinnis make for an incandescent Elinor and Marianne, and like their fellow castmates, sing quite gloriously indeed.
Leading men Sean Allan Krill (Colonel Brandon), Peter Saide (Mr. Willoughby), and Wayne Alan Wilcox (Edward Ferrars) have precisely what it takes to turn an Austen heroine’s heart; Emily Berman (Lucy Steele), Matthew Keffer, Megan Long, Colin Morgan (Mr. Harris), Brian Ray Norris (Lord Middleton), David Schlumpf (John Dashwood), Paula Scrofano (Mrs. Jennings), Elizabeth Telford (Miss Grey) and Jill Van Velzer (Fanny Dashwood) provide expert, often deliciously comedic support; and choreographer Matt Raftery has them waltzing to perfection.
Kevin Depinet’s set gives Sense And Sensibility a stunning blend of Regency elegance and contemporary simplicity, Susan E. Mickey has designed a bevy of impeccably detailed period costumes, and Donald Holder has lit the stage with delicacy and grace. Sound designer Ray Nardelli mixes vocals and instrumentals to perfection, with Larry Hochman and Bruce Coughlin’s orchestrations making Gordon’s songs sound even lovelier.
Anthony Methvin is assistant director. Peter Van Dyke is production stage manager and Laura Zingle is assistant stage manager. Swings Melinda Gilb, James Rank, Connor Sullivan, and Kelsey Venter are poised to step into featured and ensemble roles as needed.
Between musical theater aficionados and Jane Austen buffs, it’s hard to imagine a more audience-appealing production than The Old Globe’s Sense And Sensibility. As polished as the diamond any Austen heroine hopes someday to wear on her wedding-ring finger, it is summer entertainment at its most crowd-pleasingly enchanting.
Sheryl And Harvey White Theatre, Old Globe Theatre, Balboa Park, San Diego.
July 24, 2106
Photos: Liz Lauren