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)
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.
Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO, where it will remain until the end of the run. Click here to read – Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves
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
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
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.