Kelli Barrett and Dani Marcus in Emma. Photo by Sam Fine.
Once again, in the land of wise self-isolation, we turn to the internet to bring theatre and music into our lives. So on a quiet Thursday afternoon, I tuned in to stream an encore production of the musical, Emma, a love story based on one of the most widely read adored books by the incomparable Jane Austen. It is a musical that will surely entice the dreamy stuck at home audiences desperate for a big of old fashioned romance, delivering forth a lovely musical centered on one of the most adored heroines in classic literature. Written lovingly by Tony-nominated Paul Gordon (Jane Eyre), the musical sweeps in adoringly, re-imagining the 1815 classic with a mid-century modern flair while maintaining the language that fans of the book (and the many period movies) still hold tight to. I couldn’t help but see Alicia Silverstone from the 1995 film version, “Clueless” dancing around in my head, cocking her head in wonderment at the historic rendering. “As if,” she might say, and although this redesigned production by Dara Wishingrad doesn’t try to shift the framework of the story like film director and writer Amy Heckerling magically did with the words restructured to fit the time frame represented, this production, filmed at The Westside Theatre in Manhattan, is not wholeheartedly damaged or derailed by the mismatched coupling.
The musical, as directed by Kent Nicholson and Tim Kashani, is set down in the English town of Highbury, but cloaked in a 1961 frock and feel. All the characters find their way in, such as Harriet Smith, Robert Martin, Frank Churchill, and Mr. George Knightly, portrayed by a very game and festive cast: Caitlin Brooke, Lauren “Coco” Cohn, Adam Daveline, Richert Easley, Tim Gulan, Brian Herndon, Pamela Winslow Kashani, Dani Marcus, Don Richard, Sharon Rietkerk, and Will Reynolds, finding a clear emotional feel inside the romantic tale. Emma and the cast wonderfully showcase the tale of a lively young woman’s honest determination to arrange suitable matches for her friends, while insisting that she is satisfied with her single status. Her skills are questionable, and snobby, which is unfortunately heightened by the modernized dress of the whole production as designed by Kara Branch, getting more in the way of true love than helping. Naturally, Emma, played with determination by Kelli Barrett (Broadway’s Gettin’ the Band Back Together), believes in her actions, but learns eventually what it truly means to be in love, finding out that the match she is more likely to make should probably be her own.
Alice Brooks, the Director of Photography, captures the production on film as the first “Soundstage Musical” just as it was created for the theatre. In what is being called a groundbreaking new approach, the streamed approach attempts to showcase live musicals produced and performed on stage but made more accessible and sustainable to a brand new kind of audience. The musical Emma is lovely and sweet, performed beautifully and clearly by all, but I’m not completely sold on the modernized approach to the look, when the sound of the piece, both spoken and sung, remains solidly in the period it was written for. It makes her actions seem more tone-deaf and elitist than when performed in classic attire, but the heart of the musical remains true to form. It’s romantic, although love and attraction don’t ring as heartfelt as I had hoped. “True Love” doesn’t rise up as nobly as it does for Miracle Max in “The Princess Bride“, but check it out, and tell me what you think. It is currently on-demand at www.StreamingMusicals.com.
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