Unexpected pleasures abound in this romantic, lyrical and just about perfect production of “Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice” which is now running at The Signature Theatre Company’s Peter Norton Space through Oct. 11th as part of the New York Musical Festival. Miss it and you will never forgive yourself. It’s simply glorious. Stylish in its simplicity, it’s one of the finest all around productions of NYMF I have ever seen.
Lindsay Warren Baker and Amanda Jacobs are responsible for the book, music and lyrics. And they have come up with a brilliant concept. Jane Austen’s “Sense and Sensibility” has just been published and she has been asked to submit another manuscript. As Jane (a mesmerizing Donna Lynne Champlin) searches for inspiration among the papers strewn on the floor her sister Cassandra (Rebecca Pitcher) suggests she take another look at her novel “First Impressions” which ultimately becomes Pride and Prejudice. And it is here that the brilliant concept shines through.
We see Jane’s characters come to life “en masse” as she revises her book. Having to make “choices” – sometimes asking them what they are going to do next, sometimes substituting one word for another, sometimes letting them do the talking as she notates, and sometimes just enjoying being in their company. Sublime theatrics at work here. And so the saga of the Bennet family unfolds in all its romantic fiddle-faddle glory.
The direction by Igor Goldin is inspired and the production is breathtaking. Scenes flow by on a basically empty stage with just four mobile lampposts and a few pieces of period furniture aided by the incredible lighting by Zach Blane and the beautiful costumes by Colleen Kesterson with some of the loveliest hats silhouetted. Jeffry Denman’s choreography is especially noteworthy as the dances help propel the story line culminating in “The Netherfield Ball” which is a marvel of storytelling.
Not only is this production handsome to look at but it is majestically sung. Elizabeth Bennet (Patricia Noonan – a Jane Austen heroine come to living and breathing life and looking lovely and singing with her heart on her sleeve as she ponders her attraction to the arrogant and smug Fitzwilliam Darcy (Doug Carpenter – giving a bravura and sensitive performance) will send romantic thrills through your body as they ultimately make the right choices that will bring them together in “The Portrait Song.”
The wealthy Charles Bingley (a handsome Darren Bluestone) who Mrs. Bennet (Marguerite Willbanks – doubling as the villainous Lady Catherine de Bourgh) has her eye set on as husband for her daughter Jane (a demure Margaret Loesser Robinson) does an excellent job. As do Kaitlyn Davidson as Bingley’s snide sister Caroline, and Matthew Schneider as Mr. Collins who brings comic finesse to “I Aim to Please.”
The rebellious and happy-go-lucky Lydia Bennet (Jacque Carnahan) has a jolly time chasing after the soldiers in the red uniform finery and locking arms and legs around the gorgeous George Wickham (Gregory Maheu).
The cast of twenty is accompanied by only a four piece orchestra that sometimes was a bit loud but settled down for the almost three hour production. But do not let the length put you off. If one or two numbers seem like they could be cut you will find at their conclusion that they need to remain. The score is fantastic and I can only imagine what it must sound like with a full orchestra. I hope to hear it that way one day soon.
“Bravo!” to everyone involved.
www.nymf.org Photo: Peter James Zielinski
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