Back to the Bookshelf: Jane Eyre Composer Flirts With Emma

News   Back to the Bookshelf: Jane Eyre Composer Flirts With Emma Composer Paul Gordon follows up his dark-hued musicalization of Jane Eyre with the tale of another literary lady — Jane Austen's Emma, offering lighter musical colors. Previews for the world premiere begin Aug. 22 at California's TheatreWorks.
Lianne Marie Dobbs and Travis Poelle in Paul Gordon's Emma.
Lianne Marie Dobbs and Travis Poelle in Paul Gordon's Emma. Photo by David Allen

First presented as part of the Palo Alto, CA, company's 2006 Spring Festival of New Works, the musical now gets a full-scale production, opening Aug. 25 for a run slated through Sept. 16 at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts. Gordon penned book, music and lyrics.

TheatreWorks founding artistic director Robert Kelley — who helmed the previous staged reading — returns to direct.

"Endowed with wealth, good-looks, and prestige, 19th-century ingenue Emma Woodhouse prides herself on her matchmaking skills," according to TheatreWorks. "Having engineered one successful marriage, she turns her attention towards making a match for her new protege. Despite her obsession with romance, Emma is clueless to her own feelings and her well-intentioned efforts often misfire, leading to a whirlwind of comic complications and, of course, true love."

Lianne Marie Dobbs (A Little Princess, My Antonia,) is featured as the titular heroine opposite Timothy Gulan (The Frogs, The Lion King) as Mr. Knightly.

They are joined in the cast by Brian Herndon (The Elephant Man) as Mr. Elton, Dani Marcus (Beach Blanket Babylon) as Harriet, George Ward (On Golden Pond) as Mr. Woodhouse, Suzanne Grodner (The Rose Tattoo) as Miss Bates and Travis Poelle (Dessa Rose) as Frank Churchill. Also featured in the company are Richard Frederick, Danielle Levin, Mindy Lym, Sean Patrick Murtagh and Nick Nakashima. "I didn't want to be seen as the guy who took 19th-century novels with a woman's name in the title and turned them into musicals," Gordon told Playbill.com, attributing the gap between the two literary-based musicals. Jane Eyre bowed on Broadway in 2000, and had a long developmental life before that.

The composer confessed that he's not the novel fanatic he appears to be: "I wish I could say I was more literate than I am and that I had a passion for these books when I was in high school or college, but the truth is, I happened upon 'Jane Eyre' by chance, read the blurb on the back of the book and thought it might make a good musical. When I actually read the book I realized it was one of the greatest novels of all time. I discovered 'Emma' through the movie, which I loved. With that said, I have a great appreciation for both works and think they are brilliantly written. But the fact that they were also both in 'public domain' really went a long way in my choosing these projects."

As the new project is a comedy, its score reflects a noticeable difference from Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre. "Emma was really an opportunity to go 'lighter' and 'funnier.' But I am drawn to melody and I think those that enjoyed the score to Jane Eyre will find some resonance musically with Emma as well. I've also orchestrated Emma for four instruments: piano, cello, violin and oboe. So it will have more of a chamber sound."

Emma was also seen at the 2006 National Alliance for Musical Theatre Festival in New York. The composer was nominated for a Tony Award for the 2000 Broadway musical Jane Eyre. Other credits include Greetings From Venice Beach, Daddy Long Legs and The Magnificent Ambersons. He's also working on a musical version of the film, "The Front." He has also written for such recording artists as Bette Midler, Quincy Jones, Alanis Morrisette, Smokey Robinson and Dionne Warwick.

TheatreWorks' 38th season will continue with William Gibson's Golda's Balcony (Oct. 3-28), William Shakespeare's Twelfth Night (Nov. 28-Dec 23), Wendy Wasserstein's Third (Jan. 16-Feb. 10, 2008), Kathleen Clark's Southern Comforts (March 5-30, 2008) and Tony Kushner and Jeanine Tesori's Caroline, or Change (April 2-27, 2008).

Tickets for Emma at TheatreWorks at the Mountain View Center, 500 Castro St. (at Mercy), are available through (650) 903-6000 and online at theatreworks.org.

Dani Marcus, Timothy Gulan, Lianne Marie Dobbs and Travis Poelle in TheatreWorks's production of <i>Emma</i>.
Dani Marcus, Timothy Gulan, Lianne Marie Dobbs and Travis Poelle in TheatreWorks's production of Emma. Photo by David Allen