The cast of <i>Sense & Sensibility: The Musical</i>
The cast of Sense & Sensibility: The Musical
(photo courtesy of the Denver Center)
There's a mathematical elegance to the plot of Jane Austen's debut novel, Sense & Sensibility. Three potential swains into two maidens just won't go, so she introduces a devious outsider into the mix, and then it becomes a tantalizing question of who will end up with whom. Adapter/lyricist Jeffrey Haddow has transformed this rather scandalous 1811 bagatelle into an enchanting musical, currently premiering at the Stage Theatre in Denver. The musical is adorned with charming period-appropriate melodies by Neal Hampton. Director Marcia Milgrom Dodge, who infused the recent Ragtime revival with respect for the past as well as timeless insight, works comparable magic here.

Cut loose with a "pitiful pension" when their dim-witted elder half-brother and his rapacious wife inherit the family estate (a "Society" chorus is on hand to provide sardonic Sondheimian commentary), the two Dashwood girls — sensible Elinor (Stephanie Rothenberg) and fanciful Marianne (Mary Michael Patterson) — find themselves banished to a modest Devonshire cottage where their marital prospects are severely curtailed.

Without fanfare, Elinor is quietly carrying a torch for the curiously reserved Edward Ferrars (Nick Verina), an attachment cut short by the girls' abrupt exile. Although she's kept in the dark for quite some time, we soon learn that Edward isn't free, having already pledged his troth as an impressionable youth, to one decidedly below-the-salt Lucy Steele (Stacie Bono).

Meanwhile, Marianne, in her quest for romantic rapture, ignores the attentions of the honorable and sincere Colonel Brandon (Robert Petkoff) in favor of the dashing John Willoughby (Jeremiah James), whose manner signals "rake" from a mile away.

Haddow has tweaked the plot a bit, dispensing with minor characters while creating a compelling throughline. Among the principals remaining, audiences are likely to come away with a soft spot for Ed Dixon's Sir John — a country squire possessed of a good heart, even if he judges others solely in terms of their interest in the hunt — and a neighbor, the ebullient Mrs. Jennings. Got up on gaudy, over-the-top Regency-style togs by ESosa, Ruth Gottschall is tremendous in the latter role, instantly leaping into matchmaker mode: Practically the first words out of her mouth are "Do you gells have beaus?"

Petkoff is also a standout as Brandon, who defends Marianne's romanticism to Elinor with the song "Don't Try to Change Her"; later, he ups the emotional ante with the tragic backstory revealed in "I Once Knew a Girl." So moving and subtle is Petkoff's singing style, anyone would be a fool not to become permanently smitten.

Clearly Sense & Sensibility is a Broadway hopeful, and it's to be fervently hoped that this superb rendering finds its way there soon.