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