Saturday, November 22, 2008

Emma - The Jane Austen Musical

From October 8th to November 2nd, the Repertory Theater of St. Louis put on a production of Emma, the Jane Austen musical. Yes, you read that right—as if Austen's original novel wasn't enough to make lonely hearts all over the world just a little more lovesick, someone had the bright idea to have those romantic heroes burst out in song.
The musical follows the adventures of Miss Emma Woodhouse (Lianne Marie Dobbs) as she attempts to play matchmaker with those around her. Most of her efforts center on finding a mate for her clumsy companion Harriet Smith (Dani Marcus). While the rest of the town seems to be enamored with Emma, despite her slightly manipulative ways, Mr. Knightley (Timothy Gulan), the brother of her sister's husband (they proclaim in one of the numbers—"It's confusing"), sees through her schemes, and tries to warn her of the danger of playing with peoples' lives. Emma takes no heed of his warnings, and as a result, comes close to losing the one she comes to realize that she cares for the most. If the story seems a bit convoluted and confusing, just recall the storyline from 1995's Clueless, a modern-day retelling of the classic Austen novel.
The Emma musical contains no flashy dance numbers—in fact, I can only recall one dance number at all—and only five instruments are used throughout the entire score. In modern-day terms, it might seem like a snooze fest. But when the time period and subject matter are considered, the music seems fitting. Over 80% of the dialogue was taken straight from the novel, and so some of the songs seem a little forced, but the actors still managed to shine through. For instance, Marcus, playing Harriet Smith, managed to steal the entire show in a number called "Humiliation".
Overall, Emma works as a musical, but it undeniably caters to a certain group of people—those who love to watch lovesick men in britches sing songs about the girl they love, but just can't quite reach. However, that group is comprised of a larger number of people than you might think. In fact, the description seemed to describe most of the people in the theatre with me. Emma may not be the perfect musical for all, but it certainly struck a chord within the audience. In the middle of the last number, a grade school teacher watching the performance with her class burst into tears. She might as well have been giving the writers of the play and the performers a standing ovation.

-Tara Wepking, GC Freshman

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