By Myra Chanin
Jane Austen may have not created chicklit. Kudos for that belong to the ancient crone who first came up with the saga of a scullery maid who entranced an heir apparent. But Ms. Austen certainly upgraded it into a genre that’s been going strong since 1813 when publication of her masterpiece, Pride and Prejudice gave romance upgraded gentrified pizzazz. Jane also understood the marketing value of alliteration in book titles as well as adding bits of irony and social commentary to a tale of country life which would be totally boring unless true love triumphed… eventually, especially when the female beloved was born and bred in a rectory on the shady side of the lane in the Hertfordshire countryside. Pride and Prejudice asks and answers the question as to whether a snippy daughter of baseborn parents from the lower ranks of landed gentry can lasso a rich and handsome suitor – note the order of importance of his attributes – despite his pride and her prejudice. Jane Austen proved that she could.
Turning a venerated saga into a musical is an ambitious venture and Lawrence Rush pulled off a triple threat by composing the music and penning the lyrics and book. Rush is hardly a tunesmith come lately. He composed his first song at the age of 10 and followed that with a most impressive you-name-it-and-he’s-done it from performing to writing to directing to producing musical resume. Pride and Prejudice – The Musical has rewarded him with twin success. It was selected as one of five out of 200 submissions to be granted a reading at Feinstein’s/54Below on March 2, 2016, where Rush happily announced that it will be given a full production in November at a theater just outside of London.
The story is well-known and irresistible, somewhat similar to Downton Abbey, where daughters cannot inherit their father’s estate. Rush’s score is very melodic and genteel. His lyrics are clever and contemporary and make Margo Siebert’s Lizzy Bennett win the heart of any young feminist. They’re the ones that count now. They’re employed and can afford theater tickets on their own. Like them, Lizzy can wait “for dinners in silence… forcing a smile as I suffocate.” She wants a man who has “wit and intelligence.” Don’t we all?
Everyone in the cast was excellent (Margo Seibert, Nathaniel Hackmann, Brad Standley, Teal Wicks, Will Reynolds, Christiana Cole, Karen Mason, Brian Ray Norris, Gordon Stanley, Rita Markova, Jessica Fontana, Gayla Morgan, Doug Shapiro, Drew Pournelle). Karen Mason was her usual outstanding and lively self, but it just occurred to me that Mrs. Bennett who was so anxious-for-her-daughters-to-marry-well was similar to Golda, Tevya’s wife who lived in the same milieu but many thousands of miles away.
The performers that most impressed me were Gordon Stanley as Mr. Bennett who displayed real stage presence in a small role; Brian Ray Norris as Mr. Collins, the uniquely pretentious Vicar whose proposal Lizzy can barely abide. Most of all, I simply cannot forget Vivienne Cleary as Charlotte, who becomes Mr. Collins’ wife and whose simple, but oh so touching delivery of “I don’t need a handsome prince, or a man who’ll sweep me off my feet, trust and kindness…just a simple man is all I need,” won and kept my attention and heart. For me that song was the highlight of the production.
Musical Director Matt Castle at the piano ably led the singers and the audience on an entertaining journey from song to song.
Feinstein’s/54Below 254 W. 54th St. www.Feinstein’s/54below.com
The score of Pride and Prejudice – The Musical can be heard at www.prideandprejudice-themusical.com
Photos: Maryann Lopinto