In a shifting, sliding world, there are a few things you can count on: Money makes people monsters, men think they know everything, and somewhere right now another adaptation of Pride and Prejudice is being produced.
The latest is a musical developed at 5th Avenue Theatre that combines the story within the novel with the story of writing the novel. It's called Austen's Pride, and the main character is Jane Austen. As she imagines the story, the events of the novel play out around her, and it works. It's clever. Sometimes she fights with her characters, or they challenge her to explain why they are doing what they're doing, or they beg her not to kill them off.
Still, it's not quite as clever—or energetic or entertaining—as the slapstick revamp of Pride and Prejudice at Seattle Rep two years ago, involving clowning, drag, buckets of water, and Stevie Wonder.
But Austen's Pride has one of the best Darcys I've ever seen. Steven Good can step on my neck any time he wants. His portrayal is arrogant and aloof in that alluring Darcy way, and his singing is superb. (Want to see him sing a few lines of "House of the Rising Sun" on Instagram? Yes you do.) And Olivia Hernandez, who plays Elizabeth Bennet, is a spectacularly gifted actor and singer who's able to command the transformation from skeptic to foe to love interest to wife without breaking a sweat.
Michele Ragusa, who plays Mrs. Bennet, practically steals the show with her song "My Poor Nerves." And Eric Ankrim is hilarious as Mr. Collins.
But... in general, the music (written by Lindsay Warren Baker and Amanda Jacobs) leaves a lot to be desired. The melodies are not catchy and the lyrics are trite. "My Poor Nerves" is the only song that legitimately thrilled the audience. Most of the songs in the show are about love or pretty eyes or being wonderful, and half of them could be cut.
Jane Austen, played by Laura Michelle Kelly, is given basically one big thought to convey repeatedly throughout the show: We make choices. Writers make choices, lovers make choices, everything's choices. Hard to argue with that... but wait, here comes another song about "choices"? Why? If it's unclear to you why Austen is visibly pregnant, chalk it up to nontraditional casting or the Annunciation. (Austen herself never had children or married.)
The best moments in the show, which is directed by Igor Goldin and makes elegant use of lifts and trapdoors, are when the characters revolt against their creator and leap over the boundaries Austen has laid out for them. That's when the show feels most alive, and most like the act of creation. There's a beautifully staged moment when Lizzy and Darcy lock eyes in Austen's imagination that is burned into my visual memory.
Austen's Pride plays at 5th Avenue Theatre through October 27.