Jane Austen’s novel ‘Emma’ perfect for the stage

by David Dixon

Emma Woodhouse (played by Patti Murin) is an unofficial matchmaker in 19th century Hartfield, England. While she does not think much about getting married herself, Emma likes to help singletons find love with those she personally approves.

Emma’s latest project is to assist her simple and unsophisticated new friend Harriet Smith (Dani Marcus) find romance with the pompous and arrogant vicar, Mr. Elton (Brian Herndon). Even though the plan turns out to be an unintentional misfire, Emma continues to guide Harriet while sorting out her own personal life in the process.

“Jane Austen’s Emma” is a wonderful adaptation of the classic British novel. Those worried the show is going to be a dull piece of theater will be happy to know that the production is smart, funny, and features a good amount of romance devoid of any obvious schmaltz. This is the book the film “Clueless” was inspired by, and the theatrical production is just as entertaining.

All 12 members of the cast gave stand-out performances, most notably Murin. Her sunny portrayal of the lead role makes her immediately engaging and it helps that she has strong comedic, drama and musical skills. Her Mr. Knightley (Adam Monley) is very sarcastic and completely believable as he banters and playfully insults Emma while she innocently wreaks havoc on others’ lives. The Jan. 29 performance had an understudy play Emma’s father, Mr. Woodhouse (Richert Easley). His interpretation of a man who does not like change is hilarious, because he takes everything much more seriously than the other villagers of Hartfield.

Tobin Ost’s scenic design is remarkable. There is a giant artificial hedge maze onstage that is used throughout the production.
Characters often enter the stage through the maze and sometimes appear above it with the use of ladders.

Tony award nominee Paul Gordon is not only responsible for the musical’s book, but he also wrote the humorous and moving music and lyrics. Most songs, even the comedic ones, are beautifully executed and all performed with an excellent six-member orchestra.

“Emma” is a fun show that is not limited to a certain demographic. Everyone involved, including director and choreographer Jeff Calhoun, helps turn this 1815 narrative into a marvelously appealing musical for all.

Tickets and information on “Jane Austen’s Emma” can be found at theoldglobe.org.