Bay Area Theater

Review: Pride & Prejudice at TheatreWorks Palo Alto

KPFA theatre critic Richard Wolinsky reviews a new musical adaptation of “Pride & Prejudice” at TheatreWorks Lucie Stern Theater in Palo Alto through January 4, 2020.

TheatreWorks website

Text of review (audio is slightly different).

Jane Austen only wrote six complete books, yet over two centuries since her death, she has become one of the most popular best-selling authors. There have at least seventeen adaptations of Pride and Prejudice, including six miniseries, and a variety of films, from the direct to the indirect, including Bridget Jones’ Diary and, god help us, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

Plus at least four musical adaptations, the most recent of which is a world premiere, with book, music and lyrics by Paul Gordon, which can be seen at Theatreworks’ Lucie Stern Theatre in Palo Alto through January 4th.

It’s, set in Regency England. The Bennet family has five daughters, the eldest Jane a beauty, the next in line, Elizabeth, proud and smart. For girls, the only step to take when of age is marriage, most preferably to a man of property. A love match is fine, but security is what counts. Jane has someone she dotes on, and Elizabeth …well, you take what you can get. And then there’s that rude Mr. Darcy.

What makes Pride and Prejudice so special. One element is Elizabeth, our heroine, the archetypal proto feminist, standing up for herself, speaking her mind, and damn the consequences. The other is her complicated relationship with Mr. Darcy. He turns her off at the start, and then of course things change. In the end, Pride and Prejudice is the first, maybe still the greatest, rom com of all time.

With an emphasis on the status of women in a patriarchal society, the story functions as a social satire of class, and above all, manners. And it’s that angle, the manners, that makes Pride and Prejudice a perfect target for a musical.

What Pride and Prejudice does, in effect, is create a distance between what’s going on in the world, and what’s going on in people’s heads, and what better way to examine the latter than through songs that comment on the former? Which is what Paul Gordon’s Pride and Prejudice does to great effect. As we see the action, we learn what’s going on in everyone’s head.

The songs sometimes veer toward folk or light pop, but they never stray too far out of the period. Mary Mattison is particularly good as Elizabeth, and the strong voiced Justin Mortelliti offers a Darcy who matches her particularly well. Less successful are the subplots, which all get jammed in, willy nilly. Trying to cram everything in might satisfy the purists, but musical theatre has different priorities.

Still, it’s a lovely chamber musical, with a sweet score, a fine cast, an excellent all round production. This latest Pride and Prejudice is no classic, but it’s a charming night in the theatre.

Pride and Prejudice, a musical by Paul Gordon, directed by Robert Kelley, plays at theatreworks Lucie Stern Theatre through January 4th. For more information you can go to I’m Richard Wolinsky on Bay Area theatre for kPFA.

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