BWW Review: PRIDE AND PREJUDICE at Lucie Stern Theatre
Pride and Prejudice
Book, Music and Lyrics by Paul Gordon
Based on the novel by Jane Austin
Directed by Robert Kelley
TheatreWorks Silicon Valley
All the stars have aligned in TheatreWorks engaging World Premiere of Pride and Prejudice, a musical that re-energizes and greatly enhances Jane Austen's popular romantic tale of manners set in the Regency period of England. There's a convergence of shining talents at work here from top down; the Tony-winning creative team from TheatreWorks, the excellent direction from departing Artistic Director Robert Kelley, a superior ensemble cast and the marvelous score and script by Tony-nominee Paul Gordon.
Robert Kelley is having a banner finale season at the helm of TheatreWorks, recently accepting the Regional Tony Award, having directed over 175 productions in his 50 years, and winning a slew of local awards including the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC) Paine Knickerbocker Award and Jerry Friedman Lifetime Achievement Award, a recent nomination for a 2019 TBA Award for his direction of Tuck Everlasting, and a TBA Award for his direction of Daddy Long Legs. From the SFBATCC, Awards for Outstanding Direction for his productions of Into the Woods, Pacific Overtures, Rags, Sweeney Todd, Another Midsummer Night, Sunday in the Park with George, Jane Eyre, and Caroline, or Change.
His direction of this period piece attains the high standard he's sets for himself, graced with elegant movement, seamless scene transitions and excellent casting. He's previously collaborated with Paul Gordon on 2003's Tony nominated Jane Eyre and Jane Austen's EMMA at TheatreWorks in 2007 & 2015. Gordon has a keen understanding of his source material and mines the humor in Pride and Prejudice through a multitude of clever, snarky bon mots between the two main protagonists; the headstrong, free-willed Elizabeth Bennet and the cocky and haughty Fitzwilliam Darcy. Translating a popular stage piece into a musical requires a seamless transition between exposition that moves the story forward and enhancing that story with the universal glue that only music can provide. Gordon hits it out of the park here.
Of course, it helps to have a stellar cast. Making their TheatreWorks debuts are Mary Mattison (Clueless, The Musical, Superhero) as Elizabeth and Justin Mortelliti (Escape to Margaritaville, The Columbine Project, Rock of Ages) as Darcy. They carry the production on strong shoulders, their initial indifference morphing into respect and admiration. Elizabeth narrates the story and one can't help but being engaged by her interplay with her family and peers as they maneuver through a world shaped by sharp class distinctions and strict moral codes on marriage.
Theater Bay Area and SF Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle award-winner Heather Orth (Sweeney Todd, Passion) also makes her TheatreWorks mainstage debut and steals her scenes as the Bennet matriarch eager to marry off her daughters to wealthy men. Sharon Rietkerk is wonderful as elder sister Jane Bennet as is Christopher Vettel as the Bennet girls stoically wry father. Fine supporting roles abound: Lucinda Hitchcock Cone has a juicy role as the regal and entitled Lady Catherine De Bourgh, Travis Leland is the befuddled, speechless Mr. Bingley, Monique Hafen Adams is the detestable Miss Caroline Bingley among many other wonderful performances.
William Liberatore directs the dazzling score with Orchestrations and Arrangements by Conor Keelan. As you'd expect in a 19th century period piece, the costumes must be sumptuous, and Fumiko Bielefeldt outdoes herself. Joe Ragey creates the depth of enormous estates and beautiful gardens using three large screens projecting floral and library scenes. The overall effects create a glorious age gone by where people and events are limited by their thinking.
Elizabeth and Darcy learn the lessons of mutual disdain (Pride) and hasty judgements (Prejudice) and love rules the day. Austen's book is one of the most popular in English literature with TV and films version adding to the lore. Paul Gordon's musical adaptation now adds a delicious new dimension to Austen's legacy.
Pride and Prejudice continues through January 4, 2020 at the Lucie Stern Theatre, 1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto. For information or to order tickets visit theatreworks.org or call (650) 463-1960.
Photos by Kevin Berne