a silly sly slick musical adaptation of Jane Austen

By: Dec. 06, 2023
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I have a feeling the creators of Netflix’s BRIDGERTON saw Kate Hamill’s musical update of SENSE & SENSIBILITY in 2014 and understood what they had to do to make Regency era romance work for a new generation.  This iteration of the famous Jane Austen novel from 1811 introduces modern pop songs and furiously funny takes on the story.  The actors sing, spin, and travel the stage in chairs on wheels in a kinetic frenetic way that makes it feel fresh again. It gives the story a wild energy that certainly Austen doesn’t have on the page, and makes the whole tale a theater kid’s fever dream of playing for an audience.  Roles are doubled, the actors let you see them switch, and there is a wild lightness to the proceedings that betrays the expected stuffiness of the original tale.  

4th WALL THEATRE COMPANY amps things up a bit by using real music tracks rather than some chamber style reinterpretations.  It’s a little more rebellious than what you may have previously seen, and a good bit more comedic.  Director Kim Tobin-Lehl injects an infectious joy that I don’t think I have seen with any production of this work before.  She also has a cast that can nimbly move between selling real emotional moments and then doing a fun wild dance to a random pop song thrown at them.  And also, some of the actors are singing and playing music live which is also an astonishing new twist on the tale.  If you are expecting stuffy and staid, you are in the wrong Jane Austen theater this holiday season.  

Actors Faith Fossett and Christy Watkins carry the show as Marianne and Elinor Dashwood. They play two sisters left in a precarious social state after their father dies and all their money goes to a rather distant and social-climbing brother.  They are the Sense and Sensibility of the title, one with a cool logical head and the other looking for sensations of any type.  I adore Faith and Christy in these two roles, because they find ways to play the Austen Regency Era full force in moments, but then they let loose and become musical theater comediennes at the drop of a hat.  Faith mines the full out desperate depression of Marianne when she needs to, but also rides a wave of ecstatic comedy in other moments.  Christy Watkins simply looks born to do this role, and she packs a real emotional wallop when she needs to at the emotional climax of the story.  They are both excellent in these two parts.  

All the other actors play multiple roles, and they do at least double if not triple or more duties as different people.  Yet interestingly, Kim Tobin-Lehl has done an excellent job of picking thespians who can bring a signature energy to make each part feel fully fleshed out.  Nick Farco makes an amazing romantic lead as well as a rakish romantic villain.  You are never sure what he is going to do. Rachel Logue gets to play all the “bad girls” of the piece, and she makes an interesting foil to our heroes.  Timothy Eric is mainly seen as Colonel Brandon, and he’s handsome and simply earnest in his delivery.  David Gow plays the “evil men” with a certain historical smarm and charm that really resonates with the source material.  Philip Lehl takes on a corpse as well as Mrs. Jennings, the wild matriarch intent on finding romantic matches for everyone.  It’s not drag as much as it is a Mrs. Doubtfire approach, and it is terribly silly and fun in all the right ways.  Amy Mire plays both mother and socialite with a distance between the two that is astonishing.  She basically goes from Mother Courage to Paris Hilton with just a flip of the bonnet and hair.  Skyler Sinclair plays the youngest daughter and alternatively the oldest grandmother in the piece.  She’s naturally funny in both modes, and has a period elegance that can’t be dismissed.  Luis Galindo rounds everything out with strong character work and an impressive guitar solo at the right moment.

Technically there is much to love in the show.  Leah Smith has provided wonderfully adaptable clothes that are period perfect yet allow the performers to race and dance around the stage.  Krissy Richmond has coached everyone on some really silly choreography that is delightfully off kilter in all the best ways.  Ryan McGettigan’s set is the right place for the entire revved up version to happen in.  Everything is on wheels!  Nothing ever stays still.  The entire effect of the production feels filmic and theatrical all at once.  Reality is amped, perceptions shift, and the actors get creative with their delivery of any environment.  

If I were to criticize any aspect of this SENSE & SENSIBILITY, it would be that act two seems to move quite a bit slower than the first.  This only makes sense narratively since the characters are facing romantic fallout, depression, and the edge of poverty.  But Hamill’s script starts to not be quite as funny and inventive, and we get to the Regency era romantic resolution.  Luckily the actors know how to handle the downer portions, but the audience still feels the pace slow quite a bit.  It just all seems to shift out of the punk sensibility and settle into the old Austen we have always known.  

This is a fresh, fun, and inventive reimagining of a Jane Austen classic that should appeal to almost everyone.  I could see young teens loving the music and movement, while the older folks will appreciate the period touches when they happen.  Across the board it is funny and heartfelt.  I never thought I would see a Jane Austen play where a Joan Jett song as well as “Uptown Funk” would show up just to set the mood.  That’s the magic of this one… it’s letting loose all sense and looking to create a fascinating sensation in its place.  Now if we could just get a punk rock PRIDE & PREJUDICE…. 

SENSE & SENSIBILITY plays at the 4th WALL THEATRE through December 23rd.  They are located in the Spring Street Studios complex which has free parking around it.  


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