Lifeline Theatre’s Pride and Prejudice

In case, the title of the blog didn’t tip you off, I am a huge Jane Austen fan.  I will watch pretty much anything with a connection to a Jane Austen story.  Thus far, in terms of Pride and Prejudice adaptations alone, I have seen most of the film adaptations, including the modern updates Bride and Prejudice, Bridget Jones’s Diary, and Pride and Prejudice: A Latter-Day Comedy (yes, that’s right, I even watched the Mormon Pride and Prejudice).  I’ve even managed to see three different stage adaptations.  The first two were: the Northlight Theatre’s version of James Maxwell’s adaptation and the Chamber Opera Chicago’s Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice: A Musical.  The most recent version I was able to see was at the Lifeline Theatre.

The adaptation is fairly faithful to the original story.  Due to lively pacing, a two and a half hour production manages to cover all the significant events of the novel.  The events fly by, thanks to the script (by Christina Calvit) and performances highlighting the humor of Jane Austen’s work.  It is a very comedic adaptation, one in which I feel some of the darker aspects of the novel are glossed over.  The true blackness of Wickham’s character and the ignorance and selfishness of Lydia are a bit toned down in this adaptation.  Cameron Feagin really sinks her teeth into the larger than life Mrs. Bennet, and the interplay between her and Don Bender’s Mr. Bennet is always a comedic highlight.  Thanks to a few actors playing more than one role, most of Jane Austen’s characters are represented here, even the ones with very small parts to play.  The few that don’t make the cut (Mariah Lucas, Mrs. Phillips) are barely missed.

If you’ve never been to the Lifeline Theatre before, it’s an intimate theatre (it seats about 100 people), so I wondered how they were going to convey such a sprawling multi-character story on their small stage.  I guess I shouldn’t have wondered, given that they were also able to put on a fantastic version of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere.  They make excellent use of all the different parts of the stage and are able to convey changes in location through the shifting of a few small props and the dialogue of the characters.

This brings me to one of my favorite aspects of the production: the use of Elizabeth Bennet as a narrator.  In this production, Elizabeth often speaks directly to the audience, as if she is describing the events to a trusted friend.  It really helps to draw the audience into the events unfolding on the stage.  Laura McClain is able to capture the vivacity of Elizabeth, and she create a conspiratorial atmosphere with the audience.  She and Dennis Grimes (as Mr. Darcy) are both able to convey their character’s subtle shifts in emotion, which is essential to a story of mistaken first impressions.

Additionally, as a reminder of some of the differing social conventions from the Regency Period (and perhaps as a reminder of how little some things have changed), there is a recurring commentary by groups of neighbors, gossiping about the actions of the Bennets.  Also, the great many letters in the novel are handled well in this production.  Jane Austen originally conceived of Pride and Prejudice as an epistolary novel, and although she abandoned that idea, much important information is conveyed through letters received by the characters.  This could drastically slow down the story, but through a combination of having the letter writer “perform” the letter as a monologue and having the events in the letter unfold while it is read, this production manages to remain lively and fast paced.

Overall, I would highly recommend this production.  I went as a lifelong Austen fan, but accompanying me was a relative Austen newbie.  In fact, he wasn’t even completely sure what the story was about before he entered the theatre, but he enjoyed the production as much as I did.  It is a production that can satisfy everyone, and it truly is a fun night at the theatre.


Bring It On

Initially, when I heard that Bring It On was the latest movie to be adapted for the Broadway stage, I wasn’t interested.  I get a bit tired of the endless attempts to turn successful movies into Broadway musicals.  I’d seen the movie (and enjoyed it more than I was expecting to) when it was first released, but it certainly was not a favorite of mine.  I was thinking I just might pass this one up when I learned some thing that made me change my mind.

Cover of "Bring It On (Widescreen Collect...

Cover via Amazon

All it took was two words: Jeff Whitty. In case you aren’t aware, Jeff Whitty wrote the book for Avenue Q, my favorite musical, and won the Tony for it.  I also learned about some of the important contributions he made to the story of Avenue Q.  I figured that if he was writing the book for Bring It On, it would probably be clever and worth checking out.

A little more research revealed that the music was co-written by Tom Kitt and the lyrics by Amanda Green.  They were the team behind the High Fidelity musical.  I know High Fidelity was not successful on Broadway, but I caught a local production of it and thought it was great.  Maybe it worked best in a small intimate theatre. Tom Kitt also won a Tony for his work on Next to Normal.  The final co-writer was Lin-Manuel Miranda, who won a Tony for In the Heights.

Knowing that there was all this talent behind the scenes, I decided to go ahead a purchase a ticket.  I was not disappointed.  The story does not follow the plot of the movie at all.  Kirsten Dunst’s Torrance is nowhere to be found.  Instead, the main character is Campbell, who at the start of the play has it all.  She’s happy in her life with her boyfriend (who is also a cheerleader) and her duties as captain of the cheerleading squad.  Tryouts are held to determine the squad and the final member is Eva, an inexperienced sophomore. Campbell helps her through cheer camp, preventing her from quitting by telling her that she is the sophomore spirit leader, and therefore third in line to be captain of the squad.

It’s at this point that Campbell’s world falls apart.  She learns that she has been redistricted from Truman High to Jackson, which appears to be a much more ethnically diverse school with kids from a lower socioeconomic background.  And, horror of horrors, the school doesn’t even have a cheerleading squad.

Campbell has trouble fitting in, but a fellow redistrictee, Bridget, who is overweight and was always the mascot, never a member of the squad at Truman, suddenly becomes more popular.  It is largely thanks to the acceptance of Bridget that Campbell gets to know Danielle and her dance crew.

Campbell becomes a member of the crew and is adjusting to life at her new school (and flirting with a new guy) when she learns that due to a chain of suspicious events, Eva has taken her place as captain of the Truman squad, even looking like Campbell and involved with her former boyfriend.  At this point, Campbell convinces the crew to become a squad (and tells some lies in the process), so that she can compete against Eva.

Overall, I found the musical to be very enjoyable, if not always realistic.  I’m not quite sure how Jackson got to be so accepting of students who are different, including Bridget and La Cienega, a transvestite.  The speed at which the Jackson squad becomes a great squad is a bit unbelievable too, but I’m willing to suspend reality in a musical.The ending, however, does manage to be uplifting without completely losing touch with reality.  These teens also seem to live in a world devoid of adults; every character is a high schooler.

The characters from Truman could be more fleshed out.  Campbell’s fellow cheerleaders a basically a bitch and an airhead, although they do get to be very funny. The characters at Jackson get a bit more development, especially Bridget and Danielle.

I found the second act more engaging than the first, but the play always carried me along with its witty humor and catchy songs.  Speaking of the music, the songs were all enjoyable, but there were very few standouts for me.  Most of the songs serve the plot, so they’re not really stand alone numbers.  The best songs were in the second act:  Bridget’s memorable “It Ain’t No Thing,” the inspirational “Might as Well Enjoy the Trip,” and Jackson’s performance at nationals “Cross the Line.”  The play makes good use of cheerleading stunts in the dance numbers, and a few throws even elicited gasps from the audience.

Overall, I’d say Bring It On is a fun trip to theatre.  It’s not a great musical, but you’ll have a good time and you don’t have to be a cheerleader to get caught up in the energy of the show.  It’s not profound, but you’ll leave happy.  To find out where to see Bring It On, click here to visit the official website.