Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Music puts bright new twist on 'Pride and Prejudice' at TheatreWorks

Mr. Darcy (Justin Mortelliti) and Elizabeth Bennet (Mary Mattison) converse while dancing.

Despite the limitations imposed by her social class and societal norms of the times, Elizabeth Bennet has an independent streak.

She makes that point early in Paul Gordon’s musical adaptation of Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” when she sings “Headstrong.”

In its world premiere by TheatreWorks Silicon Valley, “Pride and Prejudice” features Mary Mattison as Elizabeth, or Lizzie, the second-oldest of five daughters.

Because of English inheritance laws in the early 19th century, she will have no claim to her father’s home and land after his death. Therefore, her best hope for a secure future is to marry a wealthy man.

But not just any man. That’s why she rejects the proposal of the obnoxious, self-important Mr. Collins (Brian Herndon), a distant cousin and closest male heir.

The heart of the story, though, is her seesaw relationship with the aloof Mr. Darcy (Justin Mortelliti).

Jane Bennet (Sharon Rietkerk) and Mr. Bingley (Travis Leland) also enjoy the dance.
A subplot involves another seesaw relationship, this one between her older sister, Jane (Sharon Rietkerk), and the tongue-tied Mr. Bingley (Travis Leland).

Gordon, who wrote the show’s music, lyrics and book, does a good job of conveying the characters’ emotions and propelling the plot through his tuneful songs in a variety of musical styles. Music director William Liberatore conducts the singers and six-piece band.

Director Robert Kelley, the company’s artistic director, has perfectly cast the large ensemble.

Mrs. Bennet (Heather Orth, center) reads a letter from Jane to her other daughters, from left: Mary (Melissa WolfKlain), Lizzie (Mary Mattison), Kitty (Chanel Tilghman) and Lydia (Tara Kostmayer).
Besides the principals already named, some of the standouts are Heather Orth as Mrs. Bennet, Lizzie and Jane’s doting, dithering mother; and Christopher Vettel as their droll, patient father, Mr. Bennet.

Lucinda Hitchcock Cone has some brief but memorable scenes as she commands the stage as the rich, imperious Lady Catherine De Bourgh.

Lady Catherine De Bourgh (Lucinda Hitchcock Cone) demands "Her Ladyship's Praise."
The show also has numerous humorous moments, especially when Lizzie stands up to Lady De Bourgh late in the second act.

Joe Ragey’s bucolic set, with its scenic projections, immediately draws the audience into the action, which then flows seamlessly despite changes in locale.

Also establishing the time and place are Fumiko Bielefeldt’s costumes along with Pamila Z. Gray’s lighting, Brendan Aanes’ sound and Dottie Lester White’s choreography.

Even though it doesn’t have a holiday theme, “Pride and Prejudice” embodies the holiday spirit with its overall excellence.

TheatreWorks’ 70th world premiere in 50 years, this musical delight went through part of its development process during the company’s annual New Works Festival in 2018.

Running about two and a half hours with one intermission, it will continue through Jan. 4 at the Lucie Stern Theatre, 1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto.

For tickets and information, call (650) 463-1960 or visit www.theatreworks.org.

Photos by Kevin Berne

Dancing makes 'Newsies' fun at Hillbarn Theatre

The newsies declare a strike to protest higher costs. (Photo by Mark Kitaoka)

Based on an actual situation in New York City in 1899, “Newsies,” as staged by Hillbarn Theatre, is a vehicle for almost nonstop, terrific dancing.

That’s the strongest, most enjoyable aspect of this musical directed by Doug Greer and choreographed by Zoe Swenson-Graham. Most of the singing is good, too, as is the acting.

Featuring music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Jack Feldman, the book by Harvey Fierstein focuses on a strike by the boys and young men who sold the New York World newspaper on the street.

It came after they were told they had to pay 60 cents per 100 rather than 50 cents. This price increase meant less money for these poverty-stricken newsies, as they were called.

Hence, they went on strike. They were met with resistance by the authorities, but eventually they prevailed.

In this production, however, the plot line isn’t always easy to discern because the New York accents are sometimes hard to understand and because Grant Huberty’s sound design over-amplifies the actors and the recorded music.

Jack Kelly (Kamren Mahaney) meets Katherine Plumber (Melissa Momboisse). (Photo by Tracy Martin)
The central character and instigator of the strike is Jack Kelly (Kamren Mahaney), who winds up defying Joseph Pulitzer (Shaun Leslie Thomas), publisher of the New York World, and falling in love with Katherine Plumber (Melissa Momboisse), an aspiring reporter for the New York Sun.

Medda Larkin (Phaedra Tillery) is Jack's friend. (Photo by Tracy Martin)
He’s also a talented artist who has done scenic backdrops for a Bowery theater owned by his friend, Medda Larkin (Phaedra Tillery). She delights the audience with her saucy “That’s Rich.”

Other principals in this strong cast are Stephen Kanaski as Crutchie, the disabled newsie who’s Jack’s friend; James Jones as Davey, the well-spoken newcomer who becomes a newsie to help his parents after his injured father was fired; and Noah Itzkovitz as Les, Davey’s spunky younger brother.

Several actors in this 30-member cast play several characters. Most of the newsies are the highly athletic dancers.

Menken’s songs, several of which are reprised, are mostly lively. “Watch What Happens,” sung by Katherine and later reprised by her, Jack, Davey and Les, is highly reminiscent of Stephen Sondheim’s style with its fast-paced lyrics.

Costumes by Pam Lampkin, along with hair and makeup by Y. Sharon Peng, help to define class differences. The functional set is by Paulino Deleal. Jad Bernardo is the music director.

On the other hand, Matt Eisenmann’s lighting design sometimes projects lights directly at the audience.

Athletic dancing is a highlight of the show. (Photo by Tracy Martin)
But thanks to the outstanding dancing and excellent cast, “Newsies” is highly enjoyable.

Running about two and a half hours with one intermission, it will continue through Dec. 22 at Hillbarn Theatre, 1285 E. Hillsdale Blvd., Foster City.

For tickets and information, call (650) 349-6411 or visit www.hillbarntheatre.org.