Produced by: TheatreWorks Silicon Valley
Directed by: Robert Kelley
Choreographed by: Dottie Lester White
Music direction by: William Liberatore (Music Supervisor/Orchestrations & Arrangements by Conor Keelan)
Featuring: Mary Mattison, Justin Mortelliti, Sharon Rietkerk, Melissa WolfKlain, Tara Kostmayer, Chanel Tilghman, Christopher Vettel, Heather Orth, Travis Leland, Monique Hafen Adams, Taylor Crousore, Dani Marcus, Brian Herndon, Lucinda Hitchcock Cone, Sean Fenton
Running time: 150 minutes, one intermission
When: December 4, 2019 - January 4, 2020
Where: Lucie Stern Theatre, 1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto
Tickets: $30-$100 (savings available). Visit theatreworks.org or call 650-463-1960
in TheatreWorks world premiere
“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife,” wrote Jane Austen at the start of “Pride and Prejudice.” But Elizabeth Bennet (Mary Mattison), one of the five Bennet sisters, disagrees. “Surely a man with a fortune wants more than just a wife,” she argues.
And in TheatreWorks Silicon Valley’s world premiere production of Paul Gordon’s musical adaptation of the beloved novel, argue she does. While her mother Mrs. Bennet, given a light comedic frosting by Heather Orth, does everything she can to ensure the successful marrying off of her five female offspring, Lizzy Bennett, the second eldest, doesn’t see the point. “Headstrong,” she sings, describing herself. She would rather get lost in a good book than think about a husband. The lovely Jane Bennet, the eldest, is played by Sharon Rietkerk, second in line Elizabeth is played by Mary Mattison, followed by Mary (Melissa Wolfklain), Lydia (Tara Kostmayer) and Kitty (Chanel Tilghman).
Gordon has taken a well-loved novel written two hundred years ago and given it a musical makeover which breathes new life into the characters. Robert Kelley’s direction is as superb as ever, and this is one of the best casts I’ve seen at TheatreWorks, whose actors are consistently good.
Mr. Bingley, played by Travis Leland, has rented Netherfield Hall, a nearby manor house, and is holding a ball to meet and greet his new neighbors. Mrs. Bennet, of course, dreams of new opportunities to match off her daughters, in particular Jane, the eldest. “What’s the point of being so beautiful if you can’t find a man?” Mrs. Bennet exclaims to the family, much to Jane’s embarrassment. “I’m here, you know,” she says, her presence totally disregarded by her mother.
Lizzy Bennet is not exactly enthralled by the imminent festivities and is looking forward to getting back to her books. But at said ball she meets Bingley’s friend Mr. Darcy, played by Justin Mortelliti with the style and panache that befits a landed gentleman. And landed he is, inheritor of his father’s rather extensive estate in Derbyshire. Lizzy is not impressed and finds him rather arrogant and haughty, and she tells him so. Darcy, who is used to rather more deference from a) people, b) female people, c) young female people, is somewhat taken aback by Lizzy’s unvarnished appraisal of him, but finds himself attracted to her directness and wit. “She rattles me,” he sings, and “You’ve taken the bravado out of me.”
Meanwhile the lovely Jane Bennet is introduced to the terminally shy Mr. Bingley, who is immediately smitten, but cannot seem to make any sounds come out of his mouth, rather like a fish under water. And despite the sarcastic interference of Bingley’s sister Caroline (played with disdain and a large dose of ennui by Monique Hafen Adams), the die is cast, two couples have met, but rather inauspiciously. Has Mr. Bingley’s laryngeal paralysis ruined his hopes with Jane, and has Mr. Darcy’s pride dashed his chances of romance on the rocks of Elizabeth’s prejudice? Songs and scene changes will reveal the answers.
Scenic director Joe Ragey may well have been born in the 19th century, his attention to detail is so good. The back projections of cobbled city streets, sumptuous stately homes and bucolic English countryside transport the audience back to a gentler, though more male-dominated time. Austen’s strong, feminist heroine is a precursor to her bra-burning successors 150 years later.
Other suitors make their intentions clear for the young Elizabeth, but none sparks any interest, especially not the rather weird and verbose cleric Mr. Collins, a cousin of her father by whom Mrs. Bennet is delighted. Mr. Bennet (Christopher Vettel, who has all the best lines) proclaims “An unhappy alternative is before you, Elizabeth. From this day you must be a stranger to one of your parents. Your mother will never see you again if you do not marry Mr. Collins, and I will never see you again if you do.”
Lizzy’s prejudice against Mr. Darcy hardens even more when she learns from a third party about certain actions he has taken. But, rather like a 19th-century Facebook, fake news and other people’s interpretations do not tell the whole story. Did he refuse to help Mr. Wickham whose father had been so generous to him? And did he really tell Mr. Bingley to look elsewhere as Jane Bennet wasn’t interested in him? Not the whole story, and when on a walking tour to Derbyshire she chances upon Mr. Darcy at his Pemberley estate (just go with it), he manages to get over his side of the story and gradually she realizes that he may actually be rather a good catch in marital terms.
The upper echelons of English society also have to make an appearance, in the form of Lady Catherine De Bourgh, played by Lucinda Hitchcock Cone and sounding remarkably like Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey. Though the Lady sings that everyone needs “Her Ladyship’s Praise,” Lizzy of course doesn’t, much to Lady Catherine’s annoyance.
Paul Gordon (book, music and lyrics) has quite a pedigree. A Tony Award nomination for Broadway musical “Jane Eyre,” music, lyrics and book for “Jane Austen’s Emma,” and music and lyrics to TheatreWorks’ holiday favorite “Daddy Long Legs.” He has written for and collaborated with recording artists such as Bette Midler, Quincy Jones, and Alanis Morissette.
So it’s no surprise that his songs and book to “Pride and Prejudice” are thoroughly enjoyable, and Mortelliti’s and Mattison’s voices in the Mr. Darcy/Lizzie Bennet duets do them full justice. The two who are at first uninterested in each other realize they should be together after all, and Mr. Bingley finally finds enough voice to exclaim his love for Jane Bennet. Daughter number five has also partnered up with the rather suspicious Mr. Wickham, but as he is a friend of Mr. Darcy, the family feels reassured. Not bad, three daughters out of five paired off in the space of an evening’s musical entertainment. Darcy’s pride came before his fall, in love with headstrong Lizzie. And her prejudice melted away just in time. Jolly good show.