This satiric musical, a “Waiting for Guffman” approach to “Pride and Prejudice,” is a surprise stunner.
By Ellen Wernecke
Who doesn’t want a piece of Jane Austen these days? It’s not as if the Regency author has ever seen her literary reputation suffer, but between the films “Becoming Jane” and “The Jane Austen Book Club” and a spate of new books about the life of the Darcys after overcoming their pride and prejudice, Austen would certainly be making red-carpet appearances were she still alive. In satirizing Austen fans as well as community theatre groups, interpretive dance and postmodernism, the new musical “Austentatious” assembles a number of rather easy targets, but attacks them in a skillful way bolstered by several strong performances.
The Central Riverdale Amateur Players wouldn’t get by without Sam (Stephanie D’Abruzzo, a Tony nominee for “Avenue Q”), the stage manager whose work is never fully appreciated. She’s got her hands full for this year’s production of “Pride and Prejudice,” starring among others the play’s adaptor and over-eager choreographer Emily (Stacey Sargeant), a community-theatre vet (Lisa Asher) and a stoner who’s just happy to be here (Paul Wyatt). With the newbie director (Stephen Bel Davies) unable to execute his vision of a meticulous period adaptation, it falls to Sam to bear Emily’s “romance told through dance,” from the tap-dancing Bennet sisters to a planned clog-off finale while she’s coaching the cast Darcy (George Merrick)
Like a crew of Christopher Guest players, the cast fully commits to its roles and the preposterous touches like a set of pink hats mandated by Emily for a Lydia-Bennet-goes-to-Amsterdam piece make total sense within the framework of the show. D’Abruzzo shines, not surprisingly, as the only person capable of reining in the show if someone would only listen; ironically, though, it’s that they don’t listen that “Austentatious” breaks through to its ridiculous finale. After having shown only moments of the mess in the making, the final “Pride and Prejudice” vaults over those moments to become an unintentional masterpiece with bears, clogs and “jazz-tures.” The other songs, like the director and Emily’s duet “I Can See It Now,” draw a lot of laughs, but the final show-within-a-show is what makes “Austentatious” fiendishly great instead of just comic.
Closed; formerly at the New York Musical Theater Festival.
For more information, visit From the Top Productions.
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