THEATREWORKS, whose musical version of Emma was favorably reviewed in 2007, now presents a sumptuous production of another Jane Austen classic. Sense and Sensibility, adapted by British writers Roger Parsley and Andy Graham, opened Saturday night in its stateside premiere. Not a true musical, though there is plenty of singing at the pianoforte, this retelling of one of the great works of English literature is both respectful and highly enjoyable.
The novel’s intricate plotting and large cast of characters are necessarily condensed to focus on the Dashwood sisters and their affairs of the heart as they navigate the rigid social mores of early-19th-century England. Turned out of their home in Sussex after the death of their father, the sisters move to a Devonshire cottage where their flighty, gossipy old Aunt Jennings (a composite of several characters from the novel, played comically by Stacy Ross) introduces them to Col. Brandon (Mark Anderson Phillips) and Mr. Willoughby (Michael Scott McLean).
Passionate, impetuous Marianne Dashwood (Katie Fabel) is smitten with the dashing Willoughby, while Brandon vies for her affection in his own awkward way. Meanwhile, her more reserved and levelheaded sibling, Elinor (Jennifer Le Blanc), cherishes a quiet adoration for Edward Ferrars (Thomas Gorrebeeck) despite the man’s engagement to another woman (Lucy Littlewood).
Director Robert Kelley clearly has a firm grasp of Jane Austen’s wit and humor, and the cast performs wonderfully, with Le Blanc and Fabel especially endearing in their scenes together. The production drips with atmosphere and period charm, most arrestingly in Joe Ragey’s imaginative set design. His projected backdrops, whether of London’s Georgian architecture or John Constable’s idyllic country landscapes, perfectly set the mood for each scene. Fumiko Bielefeldt’s exquisite period costumes are another valuable contribution, with the elegant Empire silhouettes of the women and the breeches and tailcoats of the men greatly enhancing the visual presentation.
Adding still further to the ambiance are a number of songs—not modern show tunes but popular English songs from Austen’s time by such composers as Charles Dibdin and William Shield. Selected from sheet music from the Austen household that Jane herself had copied by hand, these musical numbers are some of the play’s finest moments. While die-hard Austen fans might not wholly approve of the story’s simplification, they (and indeed anyone) should delight in this well-acted and lavishly staged production.
Sense and Sensibility
Runs through Sept. 18; $19-$69
Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts