Review: Austen’s Pride Has Reason To Boast

Gregory Lee Rodriguez as Charles Bingley and Manna Nichols as Jane Bennet in Austen’s Pride (Photo Credit Tracy Martin)

Austen’s Pride playing at The 5th Avenue Theatre through October 27, 2019. Get tickets and more info here.

Seattle’s 5th Avenue Theatre has the distinctive honor of presenting over 18 original musicals with over half of them going on to have a Broadway run. This current season, the 5th Avenue Theatre will be presenting three pre-Broadway musicals, one that is already marked for its debut on The Great White Way. The first of these three is Austen’s Pride, and if this is what is being shown, then Seattle will be well represented in New York! This musical is clever, intelligent and possess a good story, keen acting and well-represented songs that perfectly fit into the storyline.

Austen’s Pride is an original concept of a famous author and her works. Jane Austen’s success with her novel Sense & Sensibility has her publisher wanting to see more of her written work. The only thing she has is an unsatisfactory draft entitled First Impressions. First Impressions is a love story, and because Jane is suffering from romantic pessimism, she doesn’t feel capable of being able to revise her manuscript. With continual prompting from her sister Cassandra, Jane looks at the work with fresh eyes. The characters of the Bennet family come to life with their mother’s obsession of finding husbands for her five daughters. While Jane Bennet is the most beautiful, Elizabeth Bennet is the most quick-witted, and both women ensue the battle of the sexes to try and win their appropriate mates. As the author Jane struggles with the storyline, the characters become three-dimensional, interacting with their author/creator, and speaking their minds of what they wish would (or could) happen to them. Working through her characters’ prides and prejudices, Jane Austen sets about to writing her next famous novel.

The cast of Austen’s Pride is excellent, and they all do very well in their own roles. Each of the Bennet sisters are delightful with distinctive mannerisms to keep the daughters’ personalities apart. The younger sisters, Lydia (Delphi Borich) and Kitty (Katie Dixon) are effervescent with youthful zeal, eagerness and charm. The bookworm Mary (Andrea J. Love) is consistently stoic adding somberness to the family’s fervor. Jane (Manna Nichols) is ‘the beautiful’ sister and is matched to marry the equally handsome Mr. Charles Bingley (Gregory Lee Rodriguez).

It is the second eldest sister, Elizabeth (played by the gregarious Olivia Hernandez) that is most like the author herself. Lizzie is quick-witted, and sharp-tongued. She is intelligent and uses it as much to lure, as to dispel the attention of men. She finds her match in the debonair and wealthy, Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy (Steven Good).

Laura Michelle Kelly (seated center) stars as Jane Austen in Austen's Pride at The 5th Avenue Theatre (Photo Credit Tracy Martin)

Laura Michelle Kelly (seated center) stars as Jane Austen in Austen’s Pride at The 5th Avenue Theatre (Photo Credit Tracy Martin)

Mrs. Bennet (Michele Ragusa) is the maternal leader of the family within Ms. Austen’s story. Ms. Ragusa is one to watch whenever she is on stage. She is a walking delight, pure animation without being cliché, and does a hysterical interaction with everything she does. Her solo number “My Poor Nerves” is a comedic farce that leaves the audience laughing and wildly applauding.

The two leading sisters are the romantic Cassandra (Cayman Ilika) and Jane (Laura Michelle Kelly) Austen. Ms. Ilika is a well-established fixture on several Seattle stages for a reason; she possesses beauty, grace and talent. The romanticized character of Cassandra is perfectly pitted opposite the gregarious and more pragmatic sister, Jane played brilliantly by Ms. Laura Michelle Kelly. Ms. Kelly’s talent exudes the moment she appears on stage with a commanding presence and a powerful voice. The audience feels Jane’s bitter resentment towards all things romantic, and we empathize with her as her icy disposition slowly begins to melt. As Jane Austen, Ms. Kelly gets to interact with the characters she has created as they (literally) come to life around her.

The creative team behind Austen’s Pride is Lindsay Warren Baker and Amanda Jacobs. The storyline is not only clever but also easily engaging with the audience, even if you are unfamiliar with Jane Austen’s life or work. The songs, which range from powerful ballads to comedic songs and ensemble pieces, all fit not only with each other, but also within the storyline and the time frame in which they take place. That’s not always easily done, but this team does it well and with flair.

Austen’s Pride is very enjoyable even if you’ve never read (GASP!) Pride & Prejudice. With only a few tweaks and a couple of edges to be smoothed over, the musical should have no problem traveling across the country to New York and settling on Broadway for a successful run. Get tickets to see it now, and you may have the extreme privilege of one day being able to say, “I saw it before it went to Broadway, and knew then it would be a hit!”

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Eric Andrews-Katz

Eric Andrews-Katz

Eric Andrews-Katz has short stories included in over 10 anthologies. He is the author of the Agent Buck 98 Series (“The Jesus Injection” and “Balls & Chain”), and the author of the Greek myth series beginning with the novel TARTARUS. He has conducted celebrity interviews with some of the biggest and best names on Broadway, Hollywood and in literature. He can be found at: http://www.EricAndrewsKatz.com

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