"Sense and Sensibility"
The story is as old as its 1811 original publication, and still Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility is among the greats in the pantheon of classic literature. I always find little gems and connections to enjoy with every encounter of a new presentation or adaptation of the story. This remains true in Paul Gordon’s (responsible for book, music, and lyrics) newest version. Gordon’s knack for an ear-tingling melody, whether a ballad or an expositional upbeat tune, doesn’t attempt to reinvent, nor improve upon, Austen’s tried-and-true wheel, but rather elevates the emotional arcs of the Dashwood heroines opposite their awkwardly charming beaux.
Sharon Rietkerk and Antoinette Comer are impeccably cast as Elinor and Marianne, respectively, honoring Austen’s characters on the page while breathing comedic and romantic realism to their roles. The harmonies and many solo-asides are shimmering in their vibratos and smooth in their sopranos. Rietkerk’s chemistry opposite Darrell Morris Jr.’s charmingly nervous-in-love Mr. Ferrars is a slow burn that audiences know will end well while containing enough intrigue for the eventual nuptials to be an enjoyable journey. Morris Jr.’s baritone is exquisitely presented in his several tunes, showcasing a strong actor in addition to talented vocalist. Noel Anthony takes on the nice-guy-who-finishes-first role of Colonel Brandon, having two standout solos which make Brandon more than just the bearer of bad news to Marianne regarding her first crush, Mr. Willoughby. Anthony and Comer share an even slower burn of acquaintanceship turned friends turned lovers as in the novel, but with the songs and Comer’s enthusiastic take on Marianne’s love for walking in the rain and wistful romances, this adapted version plays well off Anthony’s sturdy, endearing gentlemanly take on the Colonel.
Standout supporting performances come from a jovial Colin Thomson as Lord John Middleston, a one-line delivery pro in Lucinda Hitchcock Cone’s Mrs. Jennings, and a dashingly passionate Hunter Ryan Herdlicka as Mr. Willoughby. Robert Kelley’s direction is well-suited for the pacing of the musical, letting the lyrics and book do the heavy lifting while he astutely shapes the stage pictures and brings the action forward. Joe Ragey’s scenic design is pleasantly literary, being classic in nature while fresh in visual appeal; Steven B. Mannshardt’s lighting design is nuanced in its well-crafted shadows, setting moods which partner well with Gordon’s score. Lindsay Saier’s wig design is among the best I have ever seen, and Fumiko Bielfedlt’s costume design is top-notch. In all, I fell in love with my favorite Austen novel all over again, thanks to the efforts made by cast, crew, and team. It is, indeed, one for the ages.