Adaptation: Barbara Landis, from the novel by Jane Austen
Lyrics: Barbara Landis
Musical Director and Conductor: Linda Madonia
Reviewer: Barbara Michaels(3 / 5)
A musical adaptation of a Jane Austen novel – one might be forgiven for thinking whatever next! Somewhat surprisingly to this hardened critic, Persuasion the musical version actually does work, although whether it contributes a great deal to the understanding of the mores of the time which is so intrinsic to Austen ‘s work, is questionable. More D’Oyly Carte than Austen, and, on occasion, tipping over the edge of comedy into farce, for my money Jane Austen it ain’t. That is not to say it is without merit.
Playwright Barbara Landis, whose adaptation this is of the last complete novel that the illustrious Jane wrote, has striven to keep the magic of Austen’s elegant prose by donning a mob cap and sitting at the side of the stage reading some of the passages from the novel. This could conceivably have worked, had Landis not chosen to add in such elements as rolling eyes and gestures which detract rather than enhance her performance.
Add to this that Landis also plays the central character of Anne Elliott, so at regular intervals throughout throws off said mob cap and shawl (various) to join the action centre stage. It is Anne’s on-off romance with Captain Wentworth played by Jeff Diebold, that is at the heart of Austen’s novel. Much rests on the role of Anne, and Landis does not differentiate sufficiently between the younger and more mature Anne although full credit must go to her for remaining faithful to the original inasmuch as keeping to much of the original dialogue and music appropriate to the era. BUT, and sadly it is a big but: in pinpointing the provincial snobbery, class consciousness and ignorance of the era with a heavy sprinkling of comedic touches, the essence of Austen has been lost.
This is a pity, as there is nevertheless much to commend here when viewed in its own right i.e. stand-alone as an independent piece of musical theatre. The music and choreography make a major contribution, with music faithful to the era and, in the second half, with spirited Irish dancing by Peter Dzik and Ian Schwartz (query: Irish dancers normally do not move any part of their upper body including their arms) and a couple of ballroom scenes from the pump room in Bath. As Anne’s father Sir Walter Elliot, John B. Boss gives a suitably over the top performance which shows his relish for the role, while Anne Marie Lewis’s portrayal of hypochondria as Anne’s sister Mary is a classic. Maggie Clennon Reberg’s Lady Russell, godmother to Anne- a cross between Downton Abbey and a Fairy Godmother – is a joy; a welcome portrayal of what real class, á la Austen, looks like.
Excellent backdrops projected on screen throughout add an authentic touch, with those in the latter half of the Cobb at Lyme Regis and the Pump Room at Bath being particularly good. Overall, a fun evening albeit somewhat of a hybrid based on the work of one of our greatest literary novelists.
Performance on Saturday, 4th August 2019