Theater & Dance
Interviews
"Sense and Sensibility"

Book, music, and lyrics by Paul Gordon
Based on the novel by Jane Austen
Produced by: TheatreWorks Silicon Valley
Directed by: Robert Kelley
Music direction by: William Liberatore
Featuring: Sharon Rietkerk. Antoinette Comer, Nick Nakashima, Melissa Wolfklain, Darrell Morris Jr., Sonya Balsara, Noel Anthony, Hunter Ryan Herdlicka, Lucinda Hitchcock Cone, Colin Thomson
When: ?\March 9 – April 3, 2022
Where: Lucie Stern Theatre, 1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto

Kelley, Gordon
Drew Altizer / TheatreWorks
TheatreWorks Founder and Artistic Director Robert Kelley, left, and composer Paul Gordon at TheatreWorks 45th Anniversary celebration at the Sofitel Hotel, November 8, 2014. The two have recently collaborated on "Sense and Sensibility."
Paul Gordon, Robert Kelley
bring 'Sense and Sensibility'
Musical based on the Jane Austen novel on stage in Palo Alto
March 18, 2022

There’s a reason we are not likely to see either director Robert Kelley or composer Paul Gordon in the lobby at the Lucie Stern Theatre during the rest of the run of Gordon’s musical, “Sense and Sensibility.”

Both of them are very busy, very productive theater geniuses, and now that the show has opened, they both have moved on to other projects.

Kelley founded TheatreWorks Silicon Valley in 1970, and retired from his artistic director duties in 2020, hoping to concentrate on directing shows — his primary theatrical love. He was working on opening the show “Ragtime,” when the theater world was flattened by the covid epidemic.

Now that people are returning to theater, Kelley is back to working with most of the cast he had assembled in 2020, and “Ragtime” is due to open on June 1, at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts.

Gordon, meanwhile, who has worked with Kelley on several other shows, including other Jane Austen-inspired shows, “Emma” and “Pride and Prejudice,” is based in New Jersey, working on more than 20 other projects.

It can be argued that both men are successful, not only because they are preternaturally intelligent and talented, but because they both work a lot. Pretty much all the time. Kelley, for instance, has been roped into a number of projects over the last two years at TheatreWorks, including doing interviews and other publicity and fund-raising jobs.

And Gordon said in a Zoom interview recently, “I work hard, 10 to 5, every day.” Even at home in Jersey City — “right on the water, a hop, a skip and a jump” from Manhattan — Gordon has been working on “Sense and Sensibility.”

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“I’ve still been working with Kelley, although covid has kept me from the West Coast. I’ve watched a couple of run-throughs on Zoom. I am moved by what Kelley's doing. I’ve done lyric updates, Kelley has been working on suggestions.”

“This is the third in Paul's trilogy of Austen pieces,” Kelley said in a recent phone interview. “All incredibly wonderful experiences. We've been able to stay in pretty close communication. He's seen the key rehearsal via Zoom, and heard the new orchestration by Bill Liberatore.”

Liberatore, TheatreWorks brilliant resident musical director, has scored the show for piano, cello, violin and oboe. “We had a similar band for ‘Emma,’” Kelley pointed out. “Bill is able to get a wonderful, full sound” with that ensemble.

Gordon said he likes to work on Jane Austen material because she, “in particular, has a modern voice, and she has humanity in her work that really appeals to me. She manages to inject humor in such a profound way — authentic humor, not broad humor — it’s amazing that audiences laugh out loud at her lines from her books, not just at the lines I write. I always thought it was funny, but didn’t realize so many other people laughed at it.”

“Jane Austen remains popular because she's still relevant,” said Kelley. “You feel like you know these people. You feel that deeply in the novel and in this production about the two sisters trying to navigate rules of society ... meanwhile, they fall in love, and see how their world works. It’s remarkable to see the closeness of these two sisters.

“I think that's what makes the show tick. ‘Emma’ was a comedy, ‘Pride and Prejudice’ was the ultimate romantic comedy. ‘Sense and Sensibility’ is more like a romantic drama. It allows the show and Paul to get inside the minds of his characters, to hear their thoughts, to share their emotions, to see how they are different.

“This story really shows the humanity in every character. We recognize people we know, and some aspect of ourselves. And there is plenty of comedy in the show.

“This production, Kelley said, “is a very special event for us, for Paul and me. We get to indulge our romantic side. This is a show that allows us to look at the joy of life and love.”

“Sense and Sensibility” is mainly the story of two sisters, Elinor and Marianne. Elinor, who is older, is sensible and reserved; Marianne, a few years younger, is driven more by emotions and romance. They, and their youngest sister, Margaret, are uprooted from their home through familial politics and machinations, and the two elder sisters, especially, must navigate a world of shifty men and tricky romances.

There is much for Gordon and Kelley to play with.

Elinor in this cast is played by Sharon Rietkerk, a veteran of many TheatreWorks shows, and the only person who has been in all three of the show’s productions, in Chicago, San Diego, and here in Palo Alto.

Broadway veteran Antoinette Comer is Marianne. This is her debut at TheatreWorks.

Nick Nakashima, Melissa WolfKlain, and Noel Anthony are among local favorites who are part of the large cast.

The sets, costumes and lighting are fabulous, thanks to scenic designer Joe Ragey, costume designer Fumiko Bielefeldt, and lighting designer Steven B. Mannshardt.

Kelley’s next show is “Ragtime,” a musical with music by Stephen Flaherty, lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, and book by Terrence McNally, based on the brilliant 1975 novel by E.L. Doctorow. It is sometimes presented with huge casts and enormous scenery, but Kelley suggested he is preparing something like a “chamber” show.

Among the more than 20 projects Gordon is working on is "The Gospel According to Heather," which is about “a 17-year-old high school girl who wants a boyfriend. but realizes she may be the second coming. ... it’s very light hearted.”

Gordon said he’s pretty much finished with the writing, and is working with Broadway producer and director Rachel Kline, to get it on stage. Maybe in a year or so.

John Orr is a member of the America Theatre Critics Association. Email him at johnorr@regardingarts.com
Comer, Rietkerk
Kevin Berne / TheatreWorks Silicon Valley
Antoinette Comer. left, and Sharon Rietkerk as sisters Marianne and Elinor confide in each other in "Sense and Sensibility," presented by TheatreWorks Silicon Valley March 9 - April 3, 2022.
Nakashima, Wolfklain
Kevin Berne / TheatreWorks Silicon Valley
Nick Nakashima, left, as John Dashwood, and Melissa Wolfklain as his wife Fanny scheme about plans for the Dashwood estate Norland in "Sense and Sensibility," presented by TheatreWorks Silicon Valley March 9 - April 3, 2022.


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