Displays Novelist Jane Austen’s Wit and Social Causes
TR Robertson — Harold Taw, writer of “Persuasion” and Chris Jeffries, who wrote the music and lyrics for “Persuasion”, were in the audience on Saturday for the opening of their musical, “Persuasion” and must have been extremely satisfied with the performance they witnessed on the Lamb’s Players Theatre Stage. Taw and Jeffries have taken the final novel written by the late 19th century English novelist Jane Austen, written songs fit to the story line of the novel and centered Austen’s social concerns, of 19th century England, with the main character of the novel.
Jane Austen, using the pen name “A Lady”, wrote 6 full length novels, 5 published during her lifetime. Austen lived an upper middle class life, but her concerns with English society and social standards were a large part of the themes of her work. In “Persuasion” she wrote about three different families, each representing part of the English class system. The Elliot’s represented the rigid Aristocracy, pompous in every aspect of social life. The Musgrove’s represented the Landed Gentry who had accumulated wealth through property and were trying to rise in social class through marriage and accumulation of wealth. The Harville’s represented the lowest of the middle class, scrapping by as best as they could.
Photos by Ken Jacques
Austen’s heroine, Anne Elliot, a member of the Aristocracy, represents the change that was beginning to take place in England at the time of Austen’s passing. Anne wants to marry for love, not status and wealth and she wants to make changes in the attitudes people have about
make aspects of the life around her. She pokes fun at her “over-the-top” father and sister who are caught in the mix of trying to acquire wealth through marriage and those around them. Anne also represents the changing role of women in the English society where women were not allowed to sign contracts, not allowed to inherit property, strongly encouraged to marry for financial security and status or never walk unaccompanied in public. She challenges each of these practices.
The nine member cast portrays a number of different roles in the musical, many playing parts for each of the families portrayed. Playing the lead role of Anne Elliot is Broadway and Off-Broadway performer Allison Spratt Pearce, who performed in “The Last Wife” at Cygnet and was a 2017 Craig Noel Award winner for her role in “Gypsy” at Cygnet. Pearce is featured in a number of numbers and at times is a solo performer on stage, stepping out toward the audience and singing directly to them. Anne is an opinionated woman, rejecting many of the upper class practices and seems to be involved in a “romantic dance” with Wentworth. Playing the “romantic” lead, Captain Wentworth, is multi-regional performer David S. Humphrey. Wentworth is a naval officer who is on the cusp of the upper class, rising as he moves up the military chain to the rank of Admiral and returning from the Napoleonic Wars a hero. Wentworth has been turned down by Anne, but returns still pining for her. Humphrey has recently been seen on stage at Welk Theatre in “Mamma Mia”. His strong baritone voice is also featured in a number of solo numbers.
A strong, veteran supporting cast makes quick costume changes as well as character changes as they play the various families revolving around Anne’s life. Her father is played by Lamb’s veteran, John Rosen. As Sir Walter Elliot, he is at his pompous best, as Captain Harville we see a side of the English society that has given their best in service to their country. Anne’s sister, Elizabeth, is played by Lauren King Thompson, who also plays Henrietta Musgrove. Lauren has performed in numerous regional theatre productions. Other Lamb’s veterans include Abigail Grace Allwein as Louisa Musgrove, 1st Gossip and Miss Carteret; Megan Carmitchel as Mary Musgrove, 2nd Gossip and Clerk; and Linda Libby as Lady Russell and is delightful in her portrayal of Mrs. Musgrove and Mrs. Harville.
Jordan Miller moves from fight choreography and directing to play Captain Benwick and William Elliot. Becoming an audience favorite for his comedic rolls around the county is Omri Schein playing Charles Musgrove, Mr. Shepard, 3rd Gossip, Lady Dalrymple and Servant. A wonderful presence on stage, great facial expressions and a voice you cannot forget make his interpretation of his characters ones you cannot forget as well. When he enters the stage as the eccentric Lady Dalrymple the audience roars with approval.
The set of the stage includes an impressive “stone” structure, serving as the backdrop for props that quickly flow on and off the stage to create the different English homes. The Creative Team includes Lamb’s Producing Artistic Director Robert Smyth, Choreographer Javier Velasco, Scenic Designer Mike Buckley, Costume Designer Jeanne Reith, Lighting Designer Nathan Peirson, Sound Designer Patrick J. Duffy, Property Master Rachel Hengst and Stage Manager Maria Mangiavellano.
Creating and performing the music, set to the late 19th century sound, is Keyboard, Conductor and Musical Director Patrick Marion. Sitting high on top of the large “stone” set and creating the sound for Marion is Rik Ogden, Dave Rumley and Diana Elledge. As the audience enters the theatre the ensemble sets the tone with a beautiful selection of classical pieces.
Using the modern musical interpretation of this classic Austen novel, the audience is taken back to a time when, for women, the world was a much different place. But, as you watch what unfolds on stage you begin to notice, a lot of what Austen wrote about still can be found in our society today and the fight for equal rights women are still involved in is alive today. This older, classic piece is not so old after all.
“Persuasion” will run at Lamb’s Players Theatre in Coronado until November 18th. Tickets are available at www.LambsPlayers.org or call 619-437-6000. Next up for Lamb’s is “Lamb’s Festival of Christmas – Reaching for the Stars” beginning on November 30th.