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Sense & Sensibility, the musical

Left to right: Ed Dixon as Sir John and Robert Petkoff as Colonel Brandon
(L to R) Ed Dixon as Sir John and
Robert Petkoff as Colonel Brandon
Photo: Jennifer M Koskinen
It looks like the Denver Center Theatre Company finally has a musical that is Broadway worthy, as evidenced by the world premiere of Sense & Sensibility, now running at the DCTC's Stage Theatre.

It's no mean trick to take one of Jane Austen's beloved, well-nuanced, historically revealing romances and, without a narrative, adapt it for the stage while recreating the same emotional arc of the novel, but Jeffrey Haddow (book and lyrics) and Neal Hampton (music) have done just that.

The alchemy is in the give and take between the emotional subtext captured in the music and lyrics, and the great character dynamics in the selected key scenes from the original story.

Mary Michael Patterson as Marianne and Jeremiah James as Mr. John Willoughby
Mary Michael Patterson as Marianne
and Jeremiah James as Mr. John Willoughby
Photo: Jennifer M Koskinen
There are still a couple of wrinkles to be worked out before the crowds of the Great White Way raise their eyebrows, but the blips are relatively easy fixes: First, find a clearer way in the first two scenes for the audience to understand why Mrs. Dashwood and her two daughters, Elinor and Marianne, have lost their estate (as it stands, those new to Austen's story, or those who have forgotten it, will be scratching their heads for a few scenes, instead of connecting to Austen's deft depictions of societal and personal dysfunction. Perhaps we are missing a short scene where John promises, on his father's deathbed, to take care of his two half-sisters and their mother, his father's second wife); and, second, clear some emotional baggage between Elinor and Edward before they are betrothed and, in the next scene, married (Edward needs to express relief at the elopement of his bethrothed and his brother, as well as to share some words of love with Elinor, before they jump to "Yes, Yes!"—they are far too sensitive and refined to do otherwise.).

Other than that, the ride is delightful. Stephanie Rothenberg's Elinor is a heroine from top to bottom, supporting her mother (Joanna Glushak) and her sister, Marianne (Mary Michael Patterson), with selfless and stoic devotion, not to mention a strong measure of faith. How could we not wish her a sublime and idyllic life with her true love, Edward (Nick Verina)? Rothenberg and Verina make great music together in a series of delightful duets, as well as separately in some thoughtful, introspective solos.

Ruth Gottshall as Mrs. Jennings
Ruth Gottshall as Mrs. Jennings
Photo: Jennifer M Koskinen
Patterson's knock 'em dead soprano finds full expression in the mercurial Marianne, whose idealism is exceeded only by her passion. Once she comes to her senses and a deeper understanding of the nature of love, what could be more perfect than her falling for the stalwart Colonel Brandon, the circumspect yet robust Robert Petkoff.

Mrs. Jennings (Ruth Gottshall) and Sir John (Ed Dixon) provide the yeoman's share of the comic relief, though the musical is rife with funny moments, a good portion of which spring from rueful asides during many of the songs.

T
(Left to right) Stephanie Rothenberg as Elinor and Stacie Bono as Miss Lucy Steele
(L to R) Stephanie Rothenberg as Elinor and
Stacie Bono as Miss Lucy Steele
Photo: Jennifer M Koskinen
he antagonists—Mr. John Willoughby (Jeremiah James), Miss Lucy Steele (Stacie Bono), and Mrs. Fanny Dashwood (Liz Pearce)—are nasty without being melodramatic, mustering a thinly veiled sneer here, and an oblivious "Who, me?" there.

Director and choreographer Marcia Milgrom Dodge's staging is a sophisticated and economical wonder, with evocative landscapes of the settings and deftly deployed set pieces (designed by Allen Moyer) moving as effortlessly as the characters who dance, drift, and swirl in and out of each other's lives.

Broadway needs to overcome its fixation on forgettable rock operas, such as Passing Strange (2008), designed and hyped to attract younger demographics, and exhibit some sense and sensibility when it comes to classic musicals such as this (and A Catered Affair, which it overlooked in 2008) and realize the potential that such fine-tuned pieces hold for musical theatre companies across the country.

Stephanie Rothenberg as Ellinor and Nick Verina as Mr. Edward Ferrars
Stephanie Rothenberg as Ellinor
and Nick Verina as Mr. Edward Ferrars
Photo: Jennifer M Koskinen
In converting Austen's panoramic tale from page to stage, we discover that the romance is, strictly speaking, a comedy, with two marriages rectifying the trials and tribulations of Elinor and Marianne. Kudos to Haddow, Hampton, and Dodge for exploring the mirth amid the formality of the Regency period and Austen's refined tale.

The Denver Center Theatre Company's world premiere of Sense & Sensibility, the musical runs through May 26th. For tickets: 303-893-4100 or www.denvercenter.org.

Bob Bows

 

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