Viewing a “chamber musical’ is indeed a marvelous experience. These are very small scale musicals, often transformed from a well known play into a musical. Jane Austen’s classic novel, “Sense and Sensibility”, a truly romantic story, that women have loved for eons, was probably the ideal candidate for being taken to this level. Commissioned by Chicago Shakespeare Theater, with a book and music and lyrics by Paul Gordon and under the direction of Barbara Gaines, the World Premiere that graced the stage at CST at Navy Pier, is an amazing sight to behold.
The story is a deep one dealing with love and sisterhood. Our two leading ladies, the Dashwood sisters, played to perfection by Sharon Rietkerk as Elinor, the elder sister and Megan McGinnis, as Marianne, the younger, are orphaned, so to speak, with the death of their father. Their brother, John (David Schlumpf) is designated to take care of his step sisters, but not in any extraordinary measures. John’s wife Fanny (Tiffany Scott, plays the mean “step-sister-in-law” just right) explains to John that the sisters will only get in the way of their lives and it is in their best interest to be sent elsewhere. Elinor has become smitten with Fanny’s brother, Edward Ferrars (deftly handled by Wayne Wilcox), but the girls are sent off to live in a more isolated and far less luxurious cottage. Here they are watched over by Lord Middleton (a strong performance by Michael Aaron Lindner) and his mother-in-law,Mrs. Jennings (a sharp and witty character created to perfection by Paula Scrofano). The remaining members of this tight ensemble are Emily Berman, Matthew Keffer, Colin Morgan,Elizabeth Telford and Megan Long.
There is another love interest, or is it two, in that young Marianne falls in love with the charming (and very alarming) Mr. Willoughby (Peter Saide), but also finds herself being befriended, or maybe seduced by Colonel Brandon (another marvelous performance by Sean Allan Krill). What we see in this story is the relationship between these two sisters, and the fact that nothing can stand in the way of it. We also are propelled through the story by the script and the music, with the musical numbers never overpowering the story that is being told. This is not a show that can be called a musical as none of the songs will truly stick in your head or be hummed as you leave the theater. You will, however, feel the closeness of the characters through the melodic words that are akin to Austen’s original manuscript.
Gordon has brought other works such as this from book to stage and from drama to musical. With his experience and the skillful eye of Gaines, one has to know that this is going to win many a Jeff nomination (and awards as well). The set (Kevin Depinet) is as stunningly beautiful as the words written by both Austen and Gordon. Susan E. Mickey’s costumes are terrific along with the costumes and make-up by Melissa Veal. Donald Holder’s lighting and the sound by Ray Nardelli and Dan Mead along with the choreography by Harrison McEldowney are the icing on the cake. The music is directed by Laura Bergquist who is also at the piano. Her nine musicians are truly masterful at bringing the story to life with just the right touch.
“Sense and Sensibility” will continue in the courtyard at Chicago Shakespeare Theater at Navy Pier through June 7th with performances listed at www.Chicagoshakes.com. Running time is 2 hours and twenty five minutes. Schedules are unique for this production, so you should check first.
Tickets range from $48- $78 and are available at the box office, 800 East Grand Avenue (Navy Pier) by phone at 312-595-5600 or online at www.chicagoshakes.com
There is discounted parking ($13.60 if you validate at box office). To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to review round-up and click at “Sense and Sensibility”.