BWW Review: Taproot's Sweet PERSUASION Brims with Potential
There are certain things that spring to mind when thinking of a Jane Austen story. Blistering on again, off again romances. Sweeping emotions. And of course, Colin Firth emerging from a lake. Well the new musical adaptation of Jane Austen's "Persuasion", currently playing at Taproot Theatre, may not have Colin Firth but the romances and emotions are there in spades.
If you're unfamiliar with this particular Austen, we follow the tragic life of Anne Elliot (Cayman Ilika), a sweet and sensible young woman stuck in a horrible family obsessed with money and station. Anne has resigned her life to taking care of her family's affairs after she was forced to reject her love, Captain Wentworth (Matthew Posner), whom her family felt was not good enough to marry. Now eight years later he's back from the war and has made his fortune and circumstance has thrown him back into her life but will his pride and her family get in the way of them rekindling their romance?
The adaptation with book by Harold Taw and music and lyrics by Chris Jeffries shows a lot of promise. They've taken a few liberties by eliminating a few characters and condensing a few plot points. Characters and points that I feel strengthen the intent of the story but it's nothing too egregious. And the music is quite lovely. opening number sets the stage nicely and keeps advancing the story and has a good hook to it. As do many of the other songs. A few times they wander off into a need for an editor but I've seen much worse. My one big complaint would be the final song. SPOILER ALERT: y end up together. (No big surprise for an Austen story.) And their end number didn't quite have the payoff I wanted. It's wasn't quite as grand of a moment and felt a little too chipper and not the soaring romantic moment it deserved. If you're going for Austen that emotional payoff after all that denial, it needs to be huge.
The ensemble of performers is absolutely sublime but what can you expect when you have some of the best in Seattle. Ilika has never failed to impress me with those vocal chops that look effortless from her but emerge from her throat like an angel choir. And her portrayal of the meek and subservient Anne never once ventured into the realm of doormat, just hurt and resigned. Posner is dashing and regal as the stalwart Captain Wentworth and matches Ilika's power quite well. But don't think that this is just their show. The rest of the ensemble are in top form and bring in multiple characters. Nick DeSantis and Chelsea LeValley turn in some brilliant and hilarious fops as Anne's overbearing family. Kate Jaeger is painfully hilarious as the chronically ill and awkward Mary. Caitlin Frances brings in three quite different characters each driving the story beautifully. Randy Scholz makes for a swoon worthy pair of romantic red herrings. Although some of those missed plot points I mentioned fell with him. Nothing against his performance but the authors could give him a bit more to work with rather than just being there. And of course, I must mention Ryan Childers and Sophia Franzella who offer up multiple characters but none more hilarious as their brief turn as the upper-est of upper crust society.
It's a thoroughly delightful piece that needs a bit of work but those issues of mine never once blocked my enjoyment. And so, with my three-letter rating system, I give the world premiere of "Persuasion" at Taproot Theatre a sweetly satisfied YAY-. But then it's Austen and Ilika so how can you go wrong?
"Persuasion" performs at Taproot Theatre through August 19th. For tickets or information contact the Taproot Theatre box office at 206-781-9708 or visit them online at www.taptoottheatre.org.