Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Seattle

Persuasion
Taproot Theatre Company
Review by David Edward Hughes


Cayman Ilika and Kate Jaeger
Photo by Eric Stuhaug
One of the most winning casts in Seattle musical history, and an out of the ordinary, strong adaptation of a Jane Austen novel with sterling silver book, music and lyrics, combine to make Taproot Theatre Company's world premiere production of Persuasion must-see summer Seattle theatre. "Hope is the most tenacious thing," wrote Jane Austen in her final, and perhaps loveliest novel. This musical version features a sleek version of Austen's prose by Harold Taw and luminous music and lyrics by Seattle wunderkind Chris Jeffries. It is the kind of writing, added to the focused tenderhearted and happily humor-filled direction of Karen Lund and the exemplary cast of actors present, that genteelly screams "I'm ready for Broadway, bitches!" New York producers should not need much persuasion to shepherd it there, and soon.

To paraphrase the program notes: "Years ago (our heroine) Anne Elliot was persuaded to abandon true love, but now her past mistakes and long-lost hopes have returned. Can she summon the courage to follow her heart?" Well, she can if everyone else in her life lets up and allows her to follow her own heart and dreams. Seattle's heiress apparent to the Julie Andrews tiara, Cayman Ilika, dazzles in every last aspect of her performance as Anne, and the fact that she is a stunning beauty makes her a natural Austen heroine. Anne's idiot relatives, overbearing friends, romantic rivals, and battling beaus are portrayed (sometimes) by actors doubling, even tripling roles with almost supernatural skill.

From the effervescent ensemble, I am hard pressed to pick/play favorites but I will! Matthew Posner rescues the role of Anne's likeliest swain from potential smarminess, singing his role as Captain Wentworth with a Gordon MacRae glow, endowing the character with a wry twinkle in his eye. Caitlin Frances captivates, crossing class barriers distinctly as Lady Russell, Mrs. Musgrove, and Mrs. Harville, and Chelsea LeValley is night and day different, and delightfully so, in her two roles as the obnoxiously imperious Elizabeth Elliot and the demure Henrietta Musgrove. The two characterizations are so separate in style, volume, and individual realities that I thought I was watching two separate actresses. Chelsea is simply a skyrocketing star to be.

Then there is the always affable and cunningly comic Nick DeSantis, flouncing about the estate with pristine self-adoration as Sir Walter Elliot, then unexpectedly humble and heart-tugging as the crippled Captain Harville. His work, and that of the whole cast for that matter, seems destined to score multiple nominations in the Gregory Awards nominations, due in the next few weeks. Comedienne Kate Jaeger lends her unmistakable audacious comic life force to the role of flibbertigibbet Mary Musgrove, and merely by a choice of a comic guffaw, stopped the show on opening night. Ryan Childers is perfectly fine in a pair of thankless roles, but en femme in a "dangerous liaison," he summons up high-style hilarity. Sophia Franzella (Louisa Musgrove and Miss Carteret) and Randy Scholz (Captain Benwick and Mr. Elliot) keep up with the rest of the company and then some.

Take a deep bow, Michael Nutting, as music director, copyist and orchestrator, with kudos as well to conductor/pianist Michael Matlock and a trio of merry musicians. Katy Tabb's pocket-sized choreography is as sharp and detailed as her work on many a more overstuffed and tap-happy show. Last, but certainly not least, Sarah Burch Gordon's period-purty costume design, Andrew Duff's limpid lighting design, and Mark Lund's smashing scenic and sound design add the final flourishes to a show that will be hard to not rank as the show of the Seattle theater season.

Though Persuasion runs Wednesdays-Saturdays through August 26, 2017, at Taproot Theatre Company, 204 N 85th St., the show has been a hot seller, so purchase your tickets briskly or miss out, at www.taproottheatre.org.


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