If you reacted to the above blog title the same way I did to the announcement of this production in the Chicago Shakespeare subscription notice for 2014-2015, a spit take might have been involved.
I’ve really enjoyed some Jane Austen re-imaginings. The movie Clueless is probably my favorite, if you don’t count straight-up dramatizations, like A&E’s Pride and Prejudice or Emma Thompson’s film version of Sense and Sensibility. Still, I had a hard time wrapping my head around the idea of a Jane Austen musical. Maybe the life I lead is too sheltered…much like that of an Austen heroine. However, my curiosity won out almost immediately. We chose a subscription package that included Sense and Sensibility, and we’re glad we did.
My first hesitation had to do with the addition of music to the story. How, I wondered, does music make much sense in this world, outside of the occasional spinet-playing required of accomplished young ladies and/or during ball scenes? Fortunately the musical integration felt seamless—no more evident in obviously musical scenes than it was in others. The music worked well stylistically—at least for me—in that it was used to fully reveal the characters’ emotions while all the time they outwardly appeared calm and unruffled. I know that’s how music often functions in musicals, but it worked particularly well in this genteel Regency setting, where appearing to be in control of every aspect of one’s life was the ultimate goal. These characters only truly revealed their feelings in song.
The singers were all pretty fabulous; to my mind Sean Allan Krill might just be one of the best singing actors I’ve ever heard. While his voice was glorious, it was the passion he brought to his songs that really knocked my socks off.
I can’t imagine a better set. It was fluid and flexible, while still feeling opulent when necessary, and you definitely knew when you were in a different location. The costumes were good, with Marianne’s second act ensemble being particularly striking.
Overall the show wasn’t a perfect experience for me, but I tend to be picky and opinionated about theatre. A few script, directorial, and musical choices distracted from the overall effect. However, as a whole, I felt the play worked. I teared up at the right parts; I stood up to applaud at the end.
Here’s my takeaway: if you have even a passing interest in Jane Austen novels and/or romance, and generally enjoy musicals you will probably enjoy this show. It’s been extended by popular demand until June 14, 2015 at Chicago Shakespeare Theatre on Navy Pier.