Donna Lynne Champlin in
Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice
(© Peter James Zielinski)
Donna Lynne Champlin in
Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice
(© Peter James Zielinski)
[Ed. Note: This is the third in a series of TM review roundups of shows in the eighth annual New York Musical Theatre Festival.]

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One of many shrewd decisions marking the gratifyingly successful adaptation of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, at Signature Theatre Company's Peter Norton Space, is the inclusion of Austen herself as a main character, played with verve by Donna Lynne Champlin.

Co-composers-lyricists-librettists-arrangers-adapters Lindsay Warren Baker and Amanda Jacobs perused the Austen biographical facts, noted the book had been rejected by the first publishers to whom it was sent, and that only 10 years or so later did the author return to it, unsure of its potential worth.

So the smart-as-whips Baker and Jacobs haven't only plucked from the page beloved Elizabeth Bennet (Patricia Noonan), Fitzwilliam Darcy (Doug Carpenter), Jane Bennet (Margaret Loesser Robinson), Charles Bingley (Darren Bluestone) and the rest of the marriage-obsessed Bennet family and friends; they have also contrived a musical about how fiction gets written.

The musical's creators also know that there is a point where any good novelist stops telling the characters what to do and the characters start telling the novelist. In the show, an amusing example of this is when Austen and Bingley have an exchange over an adjective. At other times -- including when the accomplished performers (particularly Noonan and Carpenter) chant the many lovely songs -- Austen simply employs her quill to take dictation.

Credit for this refreshing take on the story should also go to director Igor Goldin, who at an early moment has the players confront Austen collectively as if saying "Prove yourself to us," and to choreographer Jeffry Denman, who uses the several ballroom dances as much for dramatic developments as for period charm.

-- David Finkle

Next Page: Man of Rock


Nick Cordero in Man of Rock
(© Anna Bullard)
Nick Cordero in Man of Rock
(© Anna Bullard)

Restoration comedy and 1980s-style rock 'n' roll are a rather odd combination, and the new musical Man of Rock, at TBG Theatre, doesn't really make a great case for melding them together. Featuring book and lyrics by Daniel Heath and music by Ken Flagg, and adapted from George Etherege's 17th-century work, The Man of Mode, the musical is an ambitious project, but sadly, conceiver and director Jessica Heidt struggles to find a consistent tone for the production.

Set on the Jersey Shore in the year 1986, the musical centers on Dorimant (Nick Cordero), a rock singer who hasn't had a hit in a couple of years. What he has had is a string of girlfriends, and as the show begins he is phasing out Suzie Love (Lisa Birnbaum) for her best friend, Missy (Danielle Levin). However, once the beautiful Antoinette (Vanessa Reseland) arrives on the scene from Connecticut, his fickle affections seem ready to find a new target.

The show is at its best when the performers are singing. While a few of the numbers -- particularly the ones from up-and-coming singer JJ Rock (J. Michael Zygo) -- are intended as parodies of 1980s music, several are rather good songs. These include Missy's rock ballad "Love Doesn't Matter," Antoinette and Dorimant's duet, "Walk Away From Me," and Dorimant's signature song, "Come Down Angel."

Unfortunately, the majority of the actors flounder during the dialogue scenes. Part of the problem is that they play their roles too broadly, seemingly winking at the audience by demonstrating how ridiculous the characters are. But the cast also seems to have difficulty with some of the script's more elevated language. Cordero makes a game attempt at Dorimant's flowery manner of speaking, but his speeches never really spring to life -- and neither does the musical.

-- Dan Bacalzo

Next Page: Madame X


Donna English in Madame X
(Courtesy of the company)
Donna English in Madame X
(Courtesy of the company)

Gerard Alessandrini -- best known for his hilarious Forbidden Broadway revues -- has written book, music and lyrics for Madame X (which he also directs), at the 47th Street Theatre. Surprisingly, though, he and co-librettist-composer-lyricist Robert Hetzel seem to leave themselves wide open for the kind of kidding and chiding he's famous for.

The show is based on French playwright Alexandre Bisson's 1905 melodrama (and best known to many from the film adaptation starring Lana Turner) about a woman (Donna English) from the wrong side of the tracks who marries a man from the right side and, trying to fit in, doesn't.

Among other credulity-stretching events, there are a crime de passion, separation from her young son, a life of absinthe-drenched degradation on the Continent, and a trial during which she's legally defended by that long-since abandoned son.

Alessandrini's many fans will expect him to spoof this lachrymose silliness, and that's where the trouble starts and continues. For much of the proceedings, he adheres to his well-honed comic bent, although often with material significantly below his usual standards.

He and Hetzel are especially partial to familiar innuendos, such as in a song called "The Biggest Mother of Them All" that succeeds because Janet Dickinson as Mme. X's conniving mother-in-law has the wherewithal to make it better than it is.

Too often, however, the authors forget their original intentions and begin taking Madame X's predicaments seriously. The tonal switches -- particularly in the trial scene -- are so frequent that spectators trying to keep up may find their heads spinning.

-- David Finkle