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THEATER REVIEW: "Pride And Prejudice, A Musical"

You don’t often see a musical in which the writer of the source material is herself a character, but Jane Austen and her sister Cassandra show up in interesting and amusing ways in Lindsay Warren Baker and Amanda Jacobs’ new musical version of Austen’s beloved novel “Pride and Prejudice.”

The musical, now in its world premiere at La Mirada Theatre, begins in 1811 with Austen (Bets Malone) trying to figure out how to follow her “Sense and Sensibility” success with another book at least as good. Cassandra (Jill Van Velzer) thinks Jane should rework her draft of “Pride and Prejudice” (originally called “First Impressions”).

Jane is unsure, but in the absence of a better idea, starts to work, and as the time moves back to 1796 book setting, she is seen walking around throughout the show, taking notes on what her characters are saying and doing, occasionally taking guff from them when they don’t get their way, even singing now and then. It’s a charming comment on the writing process as well as an intriguing theatrical ploy.

The plot hasn’t changed; this is still a love story about the danger of first impressions (prejudice) and the tyranny of English social classism in 1796 (pride). It’s about family: notably the Bennets, of modest means, who have five daughters to marry off.

When word gets around that the very rich Mr. Bingley (Eddie Egan) has rented a place nearby, Mrs. Bennet (Amanda Naughton) sets her sights on snagging him for one of her girls. Fortunately, eldest daughter Jane (Samantha Eggers) is up to the task.

The main protagonist here is second daughter Elizabeth (Patricia Noonan) -- spunky, headstrong and a perfect match for Bingley’s equally wealthy friend Fitzwilliam Darcy (Brandon Andrus), sharp of tongue and a bit sour of disposition – the type who dismisses country dancing as “insupportable,” scoffing that “every savage can dance.” Watching these latter-day Beatrice and Benedick characters failing to connect at every turn is one of the joys of this story.

Then there’s the tiresome local vicar, Mr. Collins (the scene-stealing Jeff Skowron, known in these parts as a popular Grinch at The Old Globe), a distant Bennet cousin who – alas – stands to inherit their property because the Bennets have no male heir. Collins has attached himself to the very rich Lady Catherine de Bourgh (also played by Naughton). Can Mama Bennet manage to match one of the daughters with him?

The other major male character is Mr. Wickham (Matthew Kacergis), the handsome, charming bounder all the girls flock around. Two of the younger Bennet girls are especially interested: Kitty (Katharine McDonough) and 15-year-old Lydia (Arielle Fishman).

Kimberly Hessler plays Mary Bennet, the final Bennet girl whose desperate attempts at attention (unlike her namesake in the book, she plays piano badly and sings even worse, but doesn’t know it) are amusing but sad.

Igor Goldin directs this handsome, even enchanting production, which in addition to a terrific cast boasts an excellent tech team. Jason Lyons’ evocative lighting design is outstanding. But that’s not to slight Josh Bessom’s sound design, Ann Closs-Farley’s period costumes and Jeffry Denman’s fine choreography.

The score by Baker and Jacobs is fine and even has a bit of a period sound. The show was first presented in 2011 as part of the New York Musical Theatre Festival. It deserves a long life on the musical stage.

The details

“Pride and Prejudice, A Musical” plays through May 10, 2015 at La Mirada Theatre For The Performing Arts, 14900 La Mirada Blvd, La Mirada, California.

Showtimes are: Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 pm; Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 2 and 8 pm; Sunday at 2 pm

Tickets: (714) 994-6310 or Click HERE.

To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.