Friday, May 17, 2013

Sense & Sensibility: The Musical

I am generally not a fan of the various adaptations of Jane Austen's books (including Sense and Sensibility). I have a difficult time keeping the characters in Jane Austen's books differentiated in my mind. It seems to me that Darcy is the leading man in all adaptations of all her books and their similar stories blend together in my mind into seemingly the same story re-told several times. With this background and thinking in mind, I purchased tickets for my wife and I to see Sense & Sensibility: The Musical primarily for her and was somewhat concerned that I would be bored throughout. I am pleased to report that I was pleasantly surprised at how much more enjoyable this production was than the other adaptations I have seen.

Although I am generally not a big fan of adaptations of Jane Austen novels, I have found many musicals that I enjoy. It turns out that I much prefer Jane Austen's novels adapted in musical format as compared to straight dramatic acting. In this post, I'll briefly look at what made this adaptation, for me, more generally entertaining.

I enjoyed the music in Sense & Sensibility: The Musical. The songs were catchy and appropriate for the storyline. I also liked that fact that the songs and musical performances displaced some of the seemingly endless gossip and conversation of most Jane Austen adaptations. I realized I much prefer music conveying some of the same types of information to dialog conveying all of it. There was still enough dialog to convey the important points of the story and there was still dramatic acting, but it was not overdone to the point of boredom.

Sense & Sensibility: The Musical (Denver Center Theatre Company) was performed in The Stage theater of the Denver Performing Arts Complex. This production made great use of set movement and people movement to keep things lively. Props and actors came up through the stage floor and down into the stage floor. Props and people moved in and out of the stage from the left and from the right and to and from the audience. It also didn't hurt that we had front-row seats in a theater in which there really are no bad seats.

Sense & Sensibility: The Musical is premiering in Denver as a full production after director Marcia Milgrom Dodge held a workshop premier of it at the Colorado New Play Summit that was met with enthusiasm. In the Applause program for this production (Volume XXIV, Number 7, March-May 2013), Sylvie Drake writes, "It's never easy to take a sprawling novel and reduce it to its essentials. Some of the the Austen characters aren't in the musical, yet their absence takes nothing away from the central story." I preferred this focus on the essence.

Sense & Sensibility: The Musical has been a hit in Denver. The original shows have sold out and an extra show has been added (Sunday, May 26). Critical reviews have also been very positive. Denver Post Theater Critic Lisa Kennedy calls it "a gorgeous new musical" and awards it 3 1/2 stars (out of 4). She highlights some of the things that impressed me most including the creative use of the trap doors in the stage flow, the huge paintings setting the backdrop for scenes, and the grassy sloping hill. CBS4's Critic At Large Greg Moody calls it "simply delightful" and focuses on other aspects that I enjoyed: its simplicity and avoiding overdoing the acting, singing, or stage sets. Sandy MacDonald, for, articulates what I think many of us who have seen the production feel: "Clearly Sense & Sensibility is a Broadway hopeful, and it's to be fervently hoped that this superb rendering finds its way there soon."

I (somewhat surprisingly) truly enjoyed Sense & Sensibility: The Musical. The music was good, the acting was good, and I found the story engaging. I cannot recall any other Jane Austen adaptation that I could have called "engaging" for me. I think anyone in my situation (generally likes certain musicals but not necessarily a fan of Jane Austen adaptations) would likely enjoy this production. I enjoyed it so much that I now realize that Edward, not Darcy, is a leading man in the story.

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