Sense and Sensibility, the Musical

Written by:
Lynne Friedmann
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Jane Austen’s “Sense and Sensibility,” having delighted generations on the page and screen, is now a captivating musical making its West Coast Premiere at The Old Globe.

The story hews faithfully to the fickle fate, flagging fortune and flowering romances of the Dashwood sisters, Elinor (Sharon Rietkerk) and Marianne (Megan McGinnis).

Following the death of their father, the sisters reluctantly leave their beloved, childhood estate. They are shown the door by half-brother, John Dashwood (David Schlumpf), despite a deathbed promise to support the women with a generous annual allowance. John’s spineless change of heart comes at the insistence of his money-grubbing wife Fanny Dashwood (Jill Van Velzer). Watching helpless from the wings is Fanny’s brother, Edward Ferrars (Wayne Alan Wilcox), who carries a torch for Elinor but is also firmly under his sister’s thumb.

Fortunately, a small cottage in a township a distance away becomes available courtesy of a cousin, Lord Middleton (Brian Ray Norris). Unfortunately, these are reduced circumstances for Elinor and Marianne, but life soon becomes lively again as jolly Lord Middleton and his matchmaker, busybody mother-in-law Mrs. Jennings (Paula Scrofano) host a number of parties designed to get the young women circulating in the local marriage pool. Marianne quickly has two suitors, Dashing Mr. Willoughby (Peter Saide) and forlorn Colonel Brandon (Sean Allan Krill); both of whom harbor secrets. Elinor pines for mild-mannered Edward, who has a most-unusual secret of his own.

The men are all breeches, boots and buckles; the ladies lovely visions in Empire gowns, bonnets and parasols, courtesy of costume designer Susan E. Mickey.

In creating the book, music and lyrics, Tony Award-nominated composer Paul Gordon had the sense to trim seven characters from the original novel and the sensibility to honor Austen’s prose with exquisite songs that deliver pathos and passion. Ladies, prepare to have your heart melt when Colonel Brandon acknowledges his supposed matrimonial unsuitability in the show-stopping number “Wrong Side of Five and Thirty.”

Scenic designer Kevin Depinet manages to evoke 18th century England with nary a piece of Chippendale furniture or roll of flock wallpaper in sight. Instead, the minimalist stage features three tiered platforms from which the actors deftly execute scenes as if traversing oversized lily pads. A substantial structural element dominates center stage. Despite its bulk, it manages to convey a gracefulness that harkens to a lock of hair so often presented as a token of esteem during the period. The expansive metal surface is put to excellent use by lighting designer Donald Holder, displaying colored patterns that signify indoor and outdoor scenes, denote rain and present shadows of windows alerting the audience as to whether action is taking place in cottage or a grand hall. Sound design is by Ray Nardelli. Choreography by Matt Raftery.

Under the guidance of Larry Hochman and Bruce Coughlin, a 10-piece orchestra stays on its toes with 24 engaging songs. This makes for a three-hour performance that glides as smooth as silk and doesn’t feel lengthy in the least due to the outstanding performance and voices of the cast under the direction of Barbara Gaines, founder and artistic director of Chicago Shakespeare Theater where “Sense and Sensibility” was commissioned and developed.

Lynne Friedmann

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