In the 2020 musical version of Pride and Prejudice (on Amazon Prime). Directed by Robert Kelly and produced by TheatreWorks Silicon Valley, we find ourselves not in a movie, per se, but watching a video of a staged production.

In watching the musical derivation of a beloved story there’s an impression of viewing the Cliff’s Notes version, punctuated by the occasional impassioned song. In fact, the musical always runs the risk of being hated by admirers of a favorite movie version, which was itself inevitably despised by advocates of the book itself.

Instead of taking the easy road into vitriol, it’s better to see this musical as a loving tribute to a timeless story, and to enjoy the things that only a staged musical can do, e.g. – crowd scenes that become choral arrangements,  duets on either end of the stage where characters can share musically-enhanced perspectives about each other, plus, in general, allowing individual characters a chance to express themselves in the emotionally rich genre of vocal music, and thereby revealing character insights that otherwise are merely implied.

In the TheatreWorks Silicon Valley production, for example, the song by the Lady Catherine DeBourgh character endows her with a sense that all parties inevitably need her approval – an assumption later rejected by Lizzie Bennet.

The Lizzie Bennett in this show has something of a modern feeling. She is to some extent a 2020’s woman set in an 1813 context, and in her “headstrong” (one of her song titles) independence presages what women are now, chafing at the mores of the time as would any sensible woman of today.

The feminine costuming is both disappointing and, at times, confusing.  The ubiquitous empire waistline neglects the actual waist, of course, and snuggling right up under the bodice, but in this show the construction is so loose that several outfits just remind of a million disappointing nightgowns. And the the fabric on Lizzie’s dress looks almost like batik or tie dye.

While the principal performers will probably never achieve Sir Lawerence Olivier’s fame, aspects of several minor characters are a delight or at least memorable. Most notably, the comically inept, socially boorish “Reverend” Collins character is recast as a lecherous creature with an obvious intent to devour and deflower whichever Bennet daughter he can possess. The normally merely distasteful Collins impression acquires a new intensity of loathing.   

In addition,  the prodigious chin of the Mr. Wickham belongs to one of the most handsome versions ever,  fully justifying the exceptional fluttering of female hearts that the character inflicts in every iteration of the story. Adding to them a droll Mary Bennet narrating scene shifts, and the sarcastic tones of Caroline Bingley,  one is well supplied with supportive performances..

Cast of Pride and Prejudice, A New Musical

Elizabeth BennetMary Mattison
Fitzwilliam DarcyJustin Mortelliti
Charles BingleyTravis Leland
Jane BennetSharon Rietkerk
Mr WickhamTaylor Crousore
Mr BennetChristopher Vittel
Mrs BennetHeather Orth
Lydia BennetTara Kostmayer
Kitty BennettChanel Tilghman
Mary BennetMelissa WolfKlain
Reverend CollinsBrian Herndon
Lady Catherine DeBourghLucinda Hitchcock Cone
Anne de BourghMonique Hafen Adams
Caroline BingleyMonique Hafen Adams
Charlotte LucasDani Marcus
Georgiana Darcynot cast