This musicalization of Elizabeth Von Arnim’s novel is so charming, that even if you have special affection for the 1991 film, you’re unlikely to be disappointed. (I’ve seen the film but not read the book.) Collaborators Elizabeth Hansen and C. Michael Perry have manifest the story’s light-handed sensitivity and sentiment without treacle. An Enchanted April’s gentle heart is unimpeachable.
The piece verges on operetta in the way Sondheim approached A Little Night Music. Here, you won’t leave humming songs, but every one of Perry’s attractive, supple melodies suits the moment. Group numbers interweave with high craft. Lyrics are both wonderfully literate and singable.
Hansen’s book is deftly economic, offering just enough dialogue not to feel changes are abrupt, rendering each character distinctive. She’s softened both Frederick Arbuthnot – he’s less a social climber and Mellersh Wilkins – he’s not as career driven, perhaps in order to make them more appealing. (Both could use just a tad more unlikeability.) Legend of the hill’s enormous wisteria tree happily remains.
Lotty Wilkins has had it. Feeling like an indentured servant to her self-serving lawyer husband, Mellersh, she craves peace and romance in any form. Chancing upon a newspaper advertisement for April rental of an Italian villa, Lotty talks new acquaintance Rose ArBUTHnot (her pronunciation) into joining her.
“I see you there,” she says convincingly. (Sounds of persistent rain add impetus.) Rose also lives with little affection or beauty. Her husband, Frederick (Aaron Phillips), author of popular romances, has a separate social life as his nom de plume. We’re offered a glimpse of both unsatisfying relationships.
The ladies need two more to finance their dream. Enter pontificating, judgmental widow, Mrs. Fisher (declared an old lady at 62) who wants to get away from perpetual damp and just-affianced socialite Lady Caroline Dester, needing time away to decide whether to enter a prestigious, but loveless marriage.
Off the four of them go to a location Lotty immediately deems “Heaven.” At first they’re oil and water, but the place has a way with it. Women slowly connect. In a burst of hope against hope, Lotty invites her husband. Then Rose invites hers. Eventually three men will arrive as landlord Mr. Biggs, who grew infatuated with Rose upon first meeting, joins the group. Preconceptions fade. Misconceptions are straightened out. New “blossoming” occurs.
The excellent cast is helmed by Leah Hoking (Lotty Wilkins) whose pluck and vulnerability is thoroughly engaging and Christiana Cole whose Rose Arbuthnot begins a brittle stoic, gradually peeling away empathetic longing. Both ladies are credible, both have fine voices.
Alma Cuervo’s Mrs. Fisher speech at first reminds one a bit too much of Joan Plowright in the film, but the actress grows on one as her character opens to palpable joy. Aaron Phillips and Jim Stanek ably embody the husbands.
Melody Meeks Putnam, who evidently makes a career of nonspeaking roles in Utah Lyric Opera where this piece originated, inhabits feisty, droll, villa cook Francesca.
Peter Reid Lambert (Thomas Briggs) speaks beautiful Italian, has a good tenor and embodies the character’s sweetness. Unfortunately, he’s too young for the role. A second issue is Gena Sims’ initially bitchy Lady Caroline Dester. This is a patrician who may begin as a snob but would never be as loud and ungraceful as depicted. Director?
Director Alice Jankell keeps the piece vintage delicate, allowing performers to share the gradual effect of their Italian respite. Each character has his/her own bearing. Group numbers are well staged and skillfully arranged (Richard Danley).
There’s oddly no credit for set design. Matthew Solomon’s costumes admirably suit, except that Rose has only one dress throughout, whereas everyone else has two and Caroline is dressed for parties (flapper headpieces?!) not life in the countryside, and certainly has wardrobe for the latter.
Photos by Carol Rosegg
Opening: Aaron Phillips, Christiana Cole, Leah Hocking, Jim Stanek, Peter Reid Lambert, Alma Cuervo, Gena Sims, Melody Meeks Putnam
An Enchanted April
Based on the novel by Elizabeth Von Arnim
Book and Lyrics by Elizabeth Hansen; Music and Lyrics by C. Michael Perry
Directed by Alice Jankell
410 West 42nd Street
Though November 16, 2019