Book and Score: Paul Gordon. At: Chicago Shakespeare Theater, 800 E. Grand Ave. Tickets: 312-595-5600 or www.chicagoshakes.com; $48-$78. Runs through June 7
You might not think that Jane Austen's 1811 novel Sense and Sensibility would lend itself to adaptation as a musical.
But the folks at Chicago Shakespeare Theater feel otherwise since they're currently presenting a new world-premiere musical adaptation of Sense and Sensibility featuring a book and score by Paul Gordon, who is best known for his 2000 Broadway musical adaptation of Jane Eyre and his internationally toured adaptation of Daddy Long Legs ( which previously played Skokie's Northlight Theatre ).
One potential drawback to making Sense and Sensibility sing is that one of its main characters is the reserved and refined Elinor Dashwood ( Sharon Rietkerk ). She falls for the inarticulate and slightly awkward Edward Ferrars ( Wayne Wilcox ), so these are not exactly the kinds of characters you'd expect to sing out their hearts to one another.
Yet Gordon hits upon a good device to have the songs largely express the inner thoughts of his characters. He also gives Elinor a lot of under-her-breath sarcasm to comment on plenty of unfair or awkward situations to make the character much more palpable to modern audiences. Whether that would be true to the character is very debatable.
Much more likely to sing is the other main Dashwood sister, the impetuous and unafraid-to-speak-her-mind Marianne, who is played with a knowing vivacity by Megan McGinnis. Her two love interests also make for more likely sung interaction, particularly the tall and dashing Willoughby ( Peter Saide ) in contrast to the more morose and doubtful Col. Brandon ( Sean Allan Krill ), whose music is much more introspective along the lines of Elinor ( but he also has one of the more memorable repeated tunes in "Wrong Side of Five & Thirty" ).
Since so much musically happens with the characters' interior thoughts, there is more of a flowing recitative structure to the show than flashy self-contained songs. Oftentimes this understated approach is wholly appropriate, but other times there feels like there's too much music when a strong scene of dialogue would be more prompt ( particularly with Willoughby's final impassioned appearance ).
Director Barbara Gaines oversees a handsome production with gorgeous Empire-line costumes by Susan E. Mickey, though Kevin Depinet's scenic design of a large swirling line coupled with Donald Holder's lighting design might divide some audiences. It certainly helps to fill the space of the Courtyard Theater, though the LED backlighting effect makes you feel that you're at a modern-day shopping mall rather than early 19th-century England.
So though there are plusses and minuses to Sense and Sensibility as a musical, overall this sung adaptation will likely please Austen fans with its tunes helping to augment the romance of it all. But for others, the addition of music may just be too much at times.