Jane Austen’s Emma, A Musical Romantic Comedy
Music, lyrics and book by Paul Gordon (adapted from the novel by Jane Austen)
Directed by Jeff Calhoun
The Old Globe, San Diego
Jan. 15-March 6, 2011
As the audience enters the Donald and Darlene Shiley Theatre at the Old Globe, it is instantly immersed into an early 1800s English atmosphere. Dominating the stage is an imposing well-groomed garden maze. Downstage, a spectacular wedding cake suggests a festive ambiance and birds can be heard chirping in the distance. Before house lights fade and the show begins, we are already in the mood for a game of romance.
We soon meet our heroine, Emma, the young and pretty daughter of Hartfield estate owner, Mr. Woodhouse. Emma likes nothing better than to engage in the art of matchmaking. In fact, today she and other Hartfield guests are celebrating the union of Mr. and Mrs. Weston, for whom she claims the match. After the festivities, Emma befriends the sweet and single Harriet Smith and instantly, almost compulsively, sets out to find her a mate. Despite warnings from longtime family friend Mr. Knightley, Emma will predictably tangle everyone, including herself, into the sticky web of love. A charming visitor, a mysterious gift and gossipy neighbors will only add to the growing intrigue. Who is in love with whom? That will be the question that everyone will seek the answer to for the rest of the evening.
To lead us in the romantic journey is Patti Murin in the role of Emma. Murin must be commended for her amazing ability to balance the right amount of cleverness and naughtiness in the title character. Her voice befits the role superbly and is in good harmony with that of Adam Monley, who plays Mr. Knightley. Monley delivers a solid performance and demonstrates great control of his vocal abilities, especially in the lovely solo “Emma.” He and Murin work very well off each other and convey the complicity of longtime friendship without a glitch. Dani Marcus is bubbly Harriet. She shines in duets such as “Mr. Robert Martin” and “The Epiphany” and displays wonderful comedic timing. She has had ample time to get familiar with the character given that she originated it in earlier productions. Other “Jane Austen’s Emma”’s alumni include Suzanne Grodner as Miss Bates and Brian Herndon as Mr. Elton. The rest of the very talented cast consists of Adam Daveline as Robert Martin, Kelly Hutchinson as Mrs. Bates and Mrs. Elton, Richert Easley as Mr. Woodhouse, Don Noble and Amanda Naughton as Mr. and Mrs. Weston, Allison Spratt Pearce as Jane Fairfax and Will Reynolds as Frank Churchill.
“Jane Austen’s Emma, A Musical Romantic Comedy” is the brainchild of Paul Gordon (2001 Tony Award nominee for music and lyrics to Broadway’s “Jane Eyre”). This time, Gordon, who first presented this work to an audience in 2007*, has teamed up with director and choreographer Jeff Calhoun (“Bonnie & Clyde,” “Big River”). Together, they have woven an Old Globe Theatre production that excels at carrying on the true romantic spirit of the original literary classic, while also preserving the authenticity of the characters created by Austen. The set was designed by Tobin Ost. It is as fabulous as it is practical; the impressive garden maze is a witty metaphor for characters who struggle to map a way through their own hearts and on a more functional level, it is paired up with a revolving stage and helps in quick and flawless set changes. The music is masterfully directed by Laura Bergquist, and beautiful period costumes were designed by Denitsa Bliznakova. Additional orchestrations and music supervision are by Brad Haak, sound design is by John H. Shivers and David Patridge, and lighting design is by Michael Gilliam.
*After the show premiered at TheatreWorks in Mountain View, Calif., in 2007 and before this Old Globe Theatre production, it was performed at Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis and the National Alliance for Musical Theatre Festival of New Musicals in New York.