By Cari Lynn Pace
Fans of Jane Austen flocked to opening weekend of Pride and Prejudice, The Musical at Ross Valley Players’ Barn Theatre atop the Marin Art and Garden Center. Some may have entered skeptical that music could add to the beloved story of the Bennet family, but they departed beaming with delight. The show runs through April 16.
Award-winning composer/lyricist Rita Abrams created seventeen songs, adding shine and mirth to the tale of five eligible daughters, their suitors, and one manipulative mama. Abrams worked with Josie Brown’s book adaptation. Together they brought out subtle comedy—and fun—without altering the underlying plot of societal caste and bias.
The entire cast opens singing the sunny “Welcome to Our Neighborhood” with gusto. Harmonies with nimble lyrics abound; the songs appropriately appear between spoken dialog. The four-part “Changing World” is so poignantly melodic it makes one want to hold one’s breath.
Abrams took years to create the music, and it was worth the wait. Love songs, How-Dare-He! songs, frustration songs, happiness songs – it’s all here. And so very clever! When Mrs. Bennet sings “I have five daughters who are Venuses, in search of …” the audience erupts with laughter at the unspoken word.
Veteran director Phoebe Moyer worked with a large cast of nineteen actors, originally auditioned prior to the pandemic. Three years later, Moyer notes “It has been a long journey with many adjustments…we have become quite a family.”
“The entire cast moves as a well-oiled machine in this nearly three-hour production.”
The entire cast moves as a well-oiled machine in this nearly three-hour production. They sing, they dance, and many standouts shine with comedic talents, including Jill Wagoner commanding the stage as Mrs. Bennett and Geoffrey Colton as her beleaguered husband. Charles Evans also steals laughs as Mr. Collins, who unsuccessfully tries to woo a bride.
Handsome and lean Evan Held is perfectly cast as the taciturn and reserved Mr. Darcy, a magnet drawn to lovely and prideful Elizabeth Bennet (Lily Jackson, perfectly cast). Other actors superbly portray proper high-born characters, including Elenor Irene Paul as Caroline Bingley, with an extended cameo by Alexis Lane Jensen as Lady Catherine de Bourgh.
Pride and Prejudice, The Musical can be proud of the backstage production team bringing success to this ambitious show. Stage hands drew applause even in the semi-darkness with choreographed moves during set changes. Musical directors Abrams and Jack Prendergast tapped Wayne Green for orchestrations and Bruce Vieira for sound design. Rick Banghart sat on the side, watching carefully to deliver music tracks precisely when the actors began singing. He didn’t miss a cue!
Since the story’s setting is Hertfordshire, England in the early 1800’s, appropriate period garb was needed. Adriana Gutierrez ably delivered lovely dresses and costumes, assisted by Michael A. Berg who designed the complicated wigs. Their contributions transported the show back to that aristocratic decade. One odd aspect was the stage set: several ionic columns and a Greek-inspired pediment, an unusual backdrop for an English location.
More than six years in development, this new production of Pride and Prejudice, the Musical is filled with period costumes, talented actors, and excellent music. It’s a feel-good delight, and with RVP’s accessible pricing policy, an entertainment bargain.
ASR Writer & Editor Cari Lynn Pace is a voting member of SF Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle and writes theatre and lifestyle reviews for the Marinscope Community Newspapers throughout Marin County. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
|Production||Pride & Prejudice: The Musical|
|Written by||Jane Austen adapted by Josie Brown|
|Directed by||Phoebe Moyer|
|Producing Company||Ross Valley Players|
|Production Dates||Thru April 16th|
|Production Address||Ross Valley Players
30 Sir Francis Drake Blvd, Greenbrae, CA 94904
|Telephone||415-456-9555 ext. 1|
|Reviewer Score||Max in each category is 5/5|
|Aisle Seat Review PICK?||YES!|
|"...what could be better for a concert production than to leave its audience craving more?"||www.stagebuddy.com|
|"...The story is well-known and irresistible, somewhat similar to 'Downton Abbey'..."||www.theaterpizzazz.com|
|"Emmy award winning songwriter Rita Abrams has managed to bring her considerable powers to Austen's Pride and Prejudice in a way that brings that classic work alive, and keeps us thoroughly engaged... The songs are a triumph of inventiveness and skill."||Michael Krasny, Host of NPR's "Forum"|
|"...a sell-out success..."||janeausten.co.uk|