Opening to the delight of a full house on Thursday evening, the newest production at The Old Globe Theatre in San Diego’s Balboa Park, “Sense and Sensibility”, brought a new musical to the stage and brought back memories of romance and lost love. Jane Austen’s timeless novel has been adapted a number of times over the years in various forms and the newest form, a musical, not only kept to the overall theme of the novel, but enhanced the story with beautiful songs presented by a veteran, accomplished cast.
The novel Sense and Sensibility, was Austen’s first published work appearing in 1811. She wrote under the pseudonym “A Lady”. This romantic fiction was called a comedy of manners and is set in the time period between 1792 and 1797. The first draft of this novel was called Elinor and Marianne and was written when Austen was about 19 years old. When the title was changed, Sense was to refer to good judgement and represented Elinor and Sensibility referred to sensitivity or emotionality and is represented by Marianne.
The storyline is a simple one. Sisters Marianne and Elinor Dashwood have just seen their father pass away and conniving brother, John, and his even more sinister wife, Fanny, see a chance to control the family fortune. Marianne and Elinor lose the control of their funds, lose their home and move in a small cottage given to them by their cousin Sir John Middleton and his mother-in-law, Mrs. Jennings. Fanny’s brother, Edward, is secretly in love with Elinor and laments her moving away, much to the dislike of sister Fanny. While in their new surroundings the Dashwood sisters begin to meet people that will play major roles in their lives. Marianne meets John Willoughby, who she falls for immediately. Willoughby is a bit of a womanizer and his intentions are suspect. Also entering the picture is a wealthy land owner, Colonel Brandon, who develops feelings for Marianne. While this is going on, Marianne and Elinor find their sister relationship strained as each deals with their romantic issues. Austen weaves in the prominence of social status, that was so important for socialites in the late 1700’s, the search for meaningful relationships and the belief that manners and propriety must be kept up at all times. Various other situations will arise that the Dashwood sisters will have to face if their prospects for love and fortune are to play out.
This musical was the brainchild of Tony Award nominee Paul Gordon, creative producer Rick Boynton and director Barbara Gaines. Mr. Gordon developed the book, music and lyrics. Their wish was to design a show that had a magical, romantic quality incorporating not only songs and lyrics that developed the theme, classic costumes of Austen’s time period and for the Old Globe production a unique set design. The stage consisted of three huge round discs and steps with minimal furniture props and various other props that would appear from the rafters. The opening scene featured three huge gilded paintings. At other times doors and window frames would appear. Wrapped around this was a large spiraling feature that would light up according to the mood on the stage. Along with this the cast members use the stairs in the auditorium and the floor front of the circular sets to expand the set. Mix the beautiful designs created in part by scenic designer Kevin Depinet and the wonderful period costumes designed by Susan E. Mickey along with the creative lighting techniques of Donald Holder and the music under the direction of Laura Bergquist, Paul Gordon has indeed created a magical, romantic story enhancing Jane Austen’s timeless novel.
The beautiful presentation of this musical is further enhanced by a wonderful, veteran cast, many of whom appeared in the world premiere of the musical at Chicago Shakespeare Theater. Megan McGinnis as Marianne and Sharon Rietkerk as Elinor presented perfect contrasting sisters. Each had a number of memorable songs, “Rain”, “So the Poets Say”. One number at the end of Act I was especially moving, “Somewhere in Silence”, made even more effective with great lighting effects. Love interests Wayne Alan Wilcox as Edward, Peter Saide as Mr. Willoughby and Sean Allan Krill as Colonel Brandon each were perfect for their parts with standout songs – “Elinor” sung by Edward, “Willoughby’s Lament” sung by Mr. Willoughby and a funny “Wrong Side of Five and Thirty” sung by Colonel Brandon. Allan Krill, as the romantically timid Colonel Brandon was a crowd favorite, with a number of funny moments in the musical. Another crowd favorite was Paula Scrofano as the well-intentioned, but ditsy, Mrs. Jennings.
Even though Austen’s original story is over 200 years old, the themes and messages are universal and timeless. Most every family has had similar issues within their family or known a family that has had issues with family disagreements, love found and love lost, dreams and hopes aspired to, challenges that push you to the brink of your sanity. Paul Gordon and Barbara Gaines have put together a beautiful musical that touches on all of this while keeping to the story Jane Austen wrote. It is well worth your time to step back in time at Old Globe’s, “Sense and Sensibility”. Performances run through August 14th and tickets can be purchased at 619-234-5623 or go to www.TheOldGlobe.org/tickets