.Matrimony Melodies: Jane Austen’s musical in Ross

Fans of Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice have had a plethora of adaptations of the 19th-century novel from which to choose, from the trio of Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon theatrical extensions of the story to the recent gay-themed film Fire Island, which transported reasonable facsimiles of Austen’s characters from Hertfordshire, England to the gay mecca off of Long Island, NY.

There are at least three musical adaptations as well, including one with Marin County roots. Pride & Prejudice, The Musical, with music and lyrics by long-time Marin County resident Rita Abrams, makes its North Bay debut in Ross. The Phoebe Moyer-directed Ross Valley Players production runs through April 16.

Josie Brown’s book of the show sticks pretty faithfully to the Austen original. The Bennet house is all aflutter as Mrs. Bennet (Jill Wagoner) sets about finding suitable (read that “rich”) husbands for her five daughters. Visiting squire Charles Bingley (Justin Hernandez) has his eyes on eldest Bennet daughter Jane (Amy Dietz), while his companion, Fitzwilliam Darcy (Evan Held), finds himself put off by and then strangely attracted to second-eldest daughter Elizabeth (Lily Jackson).

An unwelcome proposal by a distant cousin (Charles Evans) and youngest sibling Lydia’s (Alexandra Fry) running off with a gentleman of questionable character (Heren Patel) further complicates things for the Bennets, but all will, of course, work out in the end.

Director Moyer has a solid ensemble at work here, starting with Geoffrey Colton as the Bennet patriarch and Wagoner as his wife. Both bring gravitas and humor to their characters. Hernandez, Held, Dietz and Jackson are well cast and possess fine singing voices.

Abrams’ clever and affecting songs are a welcome addition, though a couple felt tonally out of place, as did some odd choreography. The costume and lighting designs (by Adriana Gutierrez and Frank Sarubbi) brought a great sense of time and place to the show.

With a running time of close to three hours, the show lost steam as the evening progressed. “Staged” set changes added time to an already lengthy show, and the audience, at first receptive, soon grew weary of the process. The show also lurched into first gear whenever the character of Mr. Collins appeared.

Despite these issues, there’s a lot of good work being done here. Austen-philes would do well to consider a trip to Ross to quench their Bennet thirst.

‘Pride & Prejudice, The Musical’ runs Thurs–Sun through April 16 at the Barn Theatre in the Marin Art and Garden Center, 30 Sir Francis Drake Blvd., Ross. Thurs, 7:30pm; Fri & Sat, 8pm; Sun, 2pm. $15-$35. 415.383.1100. Masking required. rossvalleyplayers.com.


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