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Emma - A Musical Romantic Comedy

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Matchmaking these days happens in a different kind of public than in the early 1800's. Online dating sites, Face Book introductions, Twitter tweets, and other social media innovations take the worry out of being close, as millions of single searchers can attest. These days, meeting someone in person or linking up with a hometown acquaintance may seem as quaint as ducking into a high tea for Friday happy hour.

Don't tell that to Emma Woodhouse, the earnest but imprudent marriage-making heroine of both Jane Austen's nineteenth century novel and The Old Globe Theatre's current production named after her. The social butterfly flitting about England's village of Highbury would advertise on today's Google, if she were among us now. Pity, she is stuck in a London suburb in 1815. Fortunately for theatregoers, her antics, attempts, and escapades make "Jane Austen's Emma - A Musical Romantic Comedy" a delightful, witty, clever, and thoroughly entertaining event.  Paul Gordon's book, music, and lyrics are simply enchanting, capturing a perfectly pleasant tale of the heart and the age.

This is a coming of age story, not only for the heroine but also for her mentee.  Emma (adroitly played by a charming Patti Murin with an angelic, lilting voice) is reluctant to admit any faults or judgmental errors. Her friend, Harriet Smith, is too eager to allow Emma's opinions to eclipse her own judgment.  Initially complicating matters, but finally settling them, is Emma's long-time friend Mr. Knightley (played to analytical perfection by Adam Monley), who serves as a would-be conscience and social commentator. True to Emma's self-centered nature, she dismisses his worthwhile intentions until her spiteful attack on the kindly, albeit harebrained Miss Bates (convincingly, albeit exaggeratedly conveyed by Suzanne Grodner) causes her to come around.

Although the plot paints Emma, and she dabbles on canvas, it is not her portrait. The story portrays a landscape of small town, not small-minded, upper-class life and love dreams. Take Miss Harriet Smith (a soulful Dani Marcus), for example. Marcus and her clear, seemingly effortless, vocals portray this naive, underclass farmer's sweetheart and her struggles to find her own bliss. Unfortunately beholding to Emma, her friend and mentor, she nearly loses the love she envisioned, the kind and thoughtful Robert Martin (played with the right trace of innocence and silliness by Adam Daveline). So much for social climbing.

Already at the pinnacle, however, is the locally famous Frank Churchill (an appealingly heartfelt Will Reynolds), bon vivant, world traveler and object of Emma's early fantasies.  Mr. Churchill has a secret, and he injures his reputation among men by keeping it too long. Thanks to Paul Gordon's clever book, and to Jeff Calhoun's spot-on direction and choreography, the audience can speculate successfully about the eventual outcome. As Mr. Knightley sings, "The heart wants what it wants," and it will find true love's path.

Along the way to the perfect comedic ending, there is a host of laughs, many of them delivered via the coupling of the tiresome vicar Mr. Elton (a stoic Brian Herndon) and his comically crowing bride (played a la Gilda Radner by Kelly Hutchinson).  Emma's obdurate father, the curmudgeon Mr. Woodhouse (a caricatured Richert Easley) adds to the ridiculous and the preposterous.  Emma's nemesis, Jane Fairfax (a harmonious Allison Spratt Pearce) highlights our heroine's unreasonable estimations. And Emma's friends, Mr. and Mrs. Weston (Don Noble and Amanda Naughton) portray the perfect couple, mature love's success story.

People have not changed all that much in the past two hundred years, after all. Twenty-somethings are likely to think they know everything.  Usually, they come to some sort of realization that they may be mistaken once in a while.  Fortunately for the world and for this play, the growth can be amusing and heartfelt, as well as a bit painful.

Kudos for weaving this enchanting story also belong to the production artists, including scenic designer Tobin Ost and lighting designer Michael Gilliam, who create a fantasy rivaling any YouTube clip or 3-D  movie trailer. Ost's raked hedge maze provides a brilliant metaphor, as well as a super highway for prop and character movement. Gilliam's illumination sets tone and mood that makes each scene pop as brilliantly as the moon phases projected beyond the garden. Denitsa Bliznakova's costumes and the sound design by John H. Shivers and David Patridge capitalize beautifully and clearly on the mood and the era.  Laura Bergquist directs an off-stage orchestra that knows its way around the melodies of romance.

Truly, love makes every world go 'round. But whom we love, whom we think we should love, and whom others think we should love are the dilemmas that make each person's world, and this play's world, wobble in love's orbit. What a dashing ride!

Jane Austen's "Emma - A Musical Romantic Comedy" plays on The Old Globe theatre stage in San Diego's Balboa Park through February 27. Performances: 7 p.m. Tues-Weds; 8 p.m. Thurs-Sat; 7 p.m. Sunday.  Saturday and Sunday matinees are at 2 p.m., with a Weds. matinee on Feb. 9 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $39-94, with discounts for full-time students, patrons 29 years and younger, seniors and groups. Reservations: online at www.TheOldGlobe.org or by phone at (619) 23-GLOBE.

 

Spotlight

Laguna Playhouse Announces Ellen Richard as its Interim Executive Director

May 3, 2016…Laguna Beach, Calif…Laguna Playhouse Board of Directors announced today that, later this month, Ellen Richard will be joining Laguna Playhouse as its Interim Executive Director. The Playhouse announced late last year that it was undertaking a national search guided by Arts Consulting Group (ACG) for an Executive Director to succeed Karen Wood who had held this position for the past eight years.

Commenting on the appointment Joe Hanauer and Paul Singarella, Co-Chairmens of the Board of Directors, said “In the midst of our search we encountered this wonderful opportunity to engage Ellen while we continue to seek appropriate long-term leadership. To have found someone with the extraordinary qualifications that Ellen has is thrilling. She is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer at New York’s Roundabout Theatre Company where she was Managing Director. Ellen also has strong successes in supervising the construction of theatres in New York and also in San Francisco at the American Conservatory Theater, a rare and valuable skill set considering the contemplated major remodel and expansion of the Laguna Playhouse.” Laguna Playhouse Artistic Director Ann E. Wareham adds, “We are pleased and proud to have Ellen Richard, truly a rock-star in our field, join us as our interim Executive Director who will help guide the Playhouse during this transition.” Comments Ellen Richard, “I have quickly grown fond of Laguna Beach and the Playhouse. I embrace this extraordinary opportunity to join one of the country’s top regional theatres at this time in its remarkable 95-year history. I look forward to helping the Playhouse and working with their incredible Board of Trustees and Ann E. Wareham.”

ABOUT ELLEN RICHARD

Ellen Richard served as Executive Director of the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco from 2010 through 2015.  During her tenure, Ms. Richard negotiated a deal to buy the Strand Theater in tech corridor of Mid-Market San Francisco, helped raise the $34,000 million to renovate and operate it and steered the design and construction for the project which opened in May of 2015. The complex featured two performance spaces and has won multiple awards.  She opened the 50 seat Costume Shop Theater, a 49-seat “black box” venue used for the company’s Master of Fine Arts students and for shows by other local companies.  Ms. Richard was also credited with expanding the company’s educational efforts, coming up with programs like the San Francisco Semester, which brings undergraduate acting students to ACT from around the world, and Stage Coach, a community theater mobile unit that reaches into diverse neighborhoods

She was also Executive Director of The Second Stage Theatre in New York City. During her tenure at Second Stage, which began in 2006 (through 2009), she was responsible for the purchase contract of the Helen Hayes Theatre, growth in subscription income of 48 percent, and growth in individual giving of 75 percent, as well as conceptualization of a highly successful gala format and “Second Generation,” a giving program through which donors enable deserving New York City youth to experience live theater. Under Ms. Richard’s leadership, Second Stage provided the initial home for the Broadway productions Everyday Rapture, Next to Normal, and The Little Dog Laughed.

From 1983 to 2005, Ms. Richard enjoyed a rich and varied career with Roundabout Theatre Company. The Roundabout that Ms. Richard joined was a small nonprofit theater company in bankruptcy. By the time she departed as Managing Director, Roundabout had become one of the country’s largest and most successful theater companies of its kind, with net assets in excess of $67 million dollars. Ms. Richard is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer, for Roundabout productions of Cabaret (1998), A View from the Bridge (1998), Side Man (1999), Nine (2003), Assassins (2004), and Glengarry Glen Ross (2005). As producer of more than 125 shows at Roundabout, she had direct supervision of all management and marketing functions. She created Roundabout’s “Theatre-PLUS” programs, which include singles, teachers, family, gay and lesbian, wine tasting, and the 7 p.m. “Early Curtain” series, all of which grew to represent more than 10 percent of Roundabout’s 40,000 subscribers.

As director of design and construction at Roundabout, Ms. Richard was responsible for more than $50 million of theater construction for 11 projects. She conceptualized the three permanent Roundabout stages — The Broadway venues of Studio 54 and the American Airlines Theatre, and the Off-Broadway venue The Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre She directed the location search for Cabaret and oversaw the creation of the production’s environmental Kit Kat Klub. Prior to her tenure at Roundabout, Ms. Richard served as business manager of Westport Country Playhouse, theater manager for Stamford Center for the Arts, and business manager for Atlas Scenic Studio. She began her career working as a stagehand, sound designer, and scenic artist assistant.