Jane Sings

Musical version of Jane Austen classic is mostly sweet, empty-calorie fare

While there's enough about Gordon's Emma to delight the Drowsy Chaperone and Mamma Mia! crowd as well as to engage theatergoers looking for more than pretty dresses and witty banter for their money, the musical suffers to a degree from an identity crisis. Lacking even one surefire, showstopping musical number, it may be deficient in rave appeal for Broadway-centric audiences — and potential producers. At the same time, Gordon doesn't push the more subversive elements of his Emma far enough to imbue the musical with the hard-edged street cred of, say, Rent or the current Broadway darling, Spring Awakening. Comparing the heroine to an overripe strawberry is cute, but the metaphor is hardly biting. And once Emma learns the error of her ways, the musical loses its momentum. The bad-girl Emma is naturally much more appealing than her reformed counterpart.

Lianne Marie Dobbs brings humor and grace to the role of Emma Woodhouse.
David Allen
Lianne Marie Dobbs brings humor and grace to the role of Emma Woodhouse.

Details

Adapted from the novel by Jane Austen. Music, lyrics, and book by Paul Gordon.

Through Sep. 16. Tickets are $25-61; call (650) 903-6000 or visit www.theatreworks.org.

Theatreworks at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro Street (at Mercy), Mountain View.

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In the spirit of Austen's novel, Gordon's Emma is indeed not what it seems. The work undercuts its frothy, romantic-comedy veneer at every turn and we relish both its sense of breezy fun as well as its subtle underhandedness. But are these qualities enough for Gordon to secure an, ahem, Austentatious future for his fledgling musical?

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