The Chamber Opera Chicago is touring in the UK with “Jane Austen’s Persuasion: A New Musical Drama” which I saw on Thursday in London.
It was adapted by Barbara Landis who wrote the script, lyrics, music and also played Jane Austen and Anne Elliot in the play.
The set was simple but very clever. The in- and exterior was projected in the background which was carefully selected and beautifully done. On stage (in the opening scene) there was a settee, a few chairs, a replica of Jane Austen’s little, iconic desk and chair and a pier which represented the cobb.
Landis’ research on Jane Austen is extensive. The script is pretty faithful to the story, however I didn’t like one change, where Anne finds out that Wentworth is not married- despite the fact it was explained.
She used songs from Jane Austen’s favourite music which complemented the costumes.
Barbara Landis started as Jane Austen to narrate the story of Persuasion to her niece, Cassandra and nephew, Charles. With a smooth and easy accessories change she turned into Anne. To be honest I didn’t really like Ms Landis as Anne Elliot. With a badly done makeup she looked older than I believe she was; the narrative parts were over-articulated; she also regularly flinged her arms about and didn’t pay attention to the partner she was talking to, as she looked out to the audience way too often which was quite disturbing. When she played Jane Austen it was right to talk to the audience but when a dialogue (between two actors) went on, it is unbefitting. Telling the truth her singing was very good and as some of the songs were opera, I understand that she had to over-articulate, but the other actors had no problem with talking in a normal way and sing the opera songs as they were supposed to.
The ladies’ costumes were absolutely stunning; on the other hand the men costumes leave much to be desired. For example in the opening scene the solicitor’s costume wasn’t quite regency… Actually the extra staff, who organized the props had more appropriate costumes than some of the main characters.
The actors who played Mary, Louisa Musgrove, Captain Benwick and Mr Elliot were spot on, not to talk about Jeff Diebold who played Captain Wentworth and whose singing voice was absolutely swoon-worthy. He made a perfect Wentworth.
The choreography was wonderful and I think the highlights of the show were the Irish step dance and the drinking/sailor’s song.
There were small issues with the sounding which were unpleasant.
Ms Landis made a wonderful job with this adaptation; she understands Austen and found a competent team to compose this “musical drama”. It was a show that had been well put together and i strongly recommend it.