Chicago Shakespeare Theater Presents EMMA Review- Ear and Eye for Austen

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Chicago Shakespeare Emma
Emma (Lora Lee Gayer)

Any one-time binge reader of Jane Austen’s novels—or even a brief tourist of her pen—will feel at home immediately as they enter Chicago Shakespeare’s theater where EMMA is performed. Oversized diaphanous curtains tell us we are in a high society parlor—the kind that populates most scenes in most Austen novels. This one however, also gives us a flirting suggestion of the music to come courtesy of the musicians stage left. (Scenic Designer: Scott Davis)

Chicago Shakespeare Emma
(left to right) Lora Lee Gayer and Ephie Aardema
Chicago Shakespeare Emma
(left to right) Brad Standley and Lora Lee Gayer

After some light melody overture and ensemble song, the star of the story, Emma Woodhouse (Lora Lee Gayer), enters singing about her matchmaking prowess. With a perky and sometimes coy smile, lilting gait and blond curly doo, both character and actress could be called quite the charmer. Jane Austen’s story then unfolds, telling of how Emma cluelessly wreaks havoc on the lives of those around her. She meddles always, and with no doubt of her brilliance in doing so. Her one detractor, a relation of sorts, Mr. Knightley (Brad Standley), cautions her again and again. He chides, ridicules and eventually deals her the worst blow of sharing his deep disappointment in her. It’s the kind of disappointment, we soon realize, that only someone helplessly in love with this charmer could feel. Emma is, to paraphrase Mr. Knightley, absolutely flawless, despite her many flaws.

Chicago Shakespeare Returns SENSE AND SENSIBILITY Creator to Their Stage

Much as the simple set design of curtains transported to Austen-world time and place, so do the lyrics.. Paul Gordon wrote book, music and lyrics. It’s the latter that so impressed this reviewer. Gordon has distilled that Austen dialogue rhythm so well that you too may feel like you are turning the pages of this famed novel.

It would surprise this reviewer if you leave this 31-song musical humming any particular tune, with the possible exception of Mr. Knightley’s emotional reveal song Emma. Was it Gordon’s music or Standley’s delivery? It is the kind of heart in your throat moment via melody you always want in a musical.

Gayor and Standley’s top notch performances are matched by those of the characters around them—and in true Austen fashion, they truly are all characters. If you’re an American who has always admired (imagined?) that Brits were far more tolerant-to-admiring of idiosyncratic one-offs, you’ll find a collection of lovables here—from the crotchedy father (Larry Yando), the less monied girlfriend with little status to trade on in marriage (Ephie Aardema), the smarmy social climber Vicar (Mr. Elton), and more.

If you once devoured Jane Austen’s works, this is especially a top pick Singing Cliff Notes reminder of why you fell in love with her pen. This isn’t theater that turns your world upside down. This is strictly entertainment that will put a lilt in your step akin to that of charmer Emma/Gayer.





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Lora Lee Gayer Emma Woodhouse

Brad Standley Mr. Knightley

Ephie Aardema Harriet Smith

Devin DeSantis Frank Churchill

Maxwell J DeTogne Ensemble

Ian Geers Robert Martin

Emily Goldberg Mrs. Bates / Ensemble

Marya Grandy Miss Bates

Dennis William Grimes Mr. Elton

Kelli Harrington Mrs. Weston

Brandy Cheyenne Miller Miss Elizabeth Martin / Ensemble

Michael Milligan Mr. Weston

Liam Quealy Ensemble

Erica Stephan Jane Fairfax

Bri Sudia Mrs. Elton

Larry Yando Mr. Woodhouse

Creative Team:

Paul Gordon Book, Music & Lyrics

Barbara Gaines Director

Jane Lanier Choreographer

Roberta Duchak Music Director

Scott Davis Scenic Designer

Mariann Verheyen Costume Designer

Donald Holder Lighting Designer

Chad Parsley Sound Designer

Richard Jarvie Wig and Make-up Designer

Brad Haak / Brian Allan Hobbs / Paul Gordon Orchestrations

Kate DeVore Dialect Coach

Kory Danielson Associate Music Director

Erin Kraft Assistant Director

Bob Mason Casting

Laura Stanczyk New York Casting

Deborah Acker Production Stage Manager

Cara Parrish Assistant Stage Manager

Kelly Montgomery Assistant Stage Manager

Alex Hare SDCF Charles Abbott Fellow


Through March 15


Chicago Shakespeare Theater
800 E. Grand on Navy Pier
Chicago, Illinois 60611



For full price tickets and information, go to Chicago Shakespeare Theater website

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Photos by Liz Lauren

Note: Picture This Post reviews are excerpted by Theatre in Chicago

Amy Munice

About the Author:

Amy Munice is Editor-in-Chief and Co-Publisher of Picture This Post. She covers books, dance, film, theater, music, museums and travel. Prior to founding Picture This Post, Amy was a freelance writer and global PR specialist for decades—writing and ghostwriting thousands of articles and promotional communications on a wide range of technical and not-so-technical topics.

Amy hopes the magazine’s click-a-picture-to-read-a-vivid-account format will nourish those ever hunting for under-discovered cultural treasures. She especially loves writing articles about travel finds, showcasing works by cultural warriors of a progressive bent, and shining a light on bold, creative strokes by fledgling artists in all genres.


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