By Kara Henry
Local writer and director Elizabeth Hansen has collaborated with composer C. Michael Perry to bring us Enchanted April, a musical based on the novel, The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim. If there’s one thing I’ve learned since I started reviewing shows, it’s that Utah-grown composers and playwrights are good. When I first started seeing local writers in action, I was skeptical that local talent could be that engrossing, but I have since repented. This show, Enchanted April, is proof and is certainly worth seeing.
Enchanted April tells the story of four women, practically strangers, who decide to vacation for a month in Italy together. Set in 1922 soon after the end of World War I, these women are trying to once again get their bearings, find who they are in the world and what they want out of life.
The story starts with Lotty (Carla Kirk) and Rose (Jessica Lake) seeing the same advertisement in the paper for a castle that is being let in Italy. Lotty, who has seen Rose in church, decides they should be friends and that they should spend the month of April in Italy together. But, they need two more women to help them pay for the venture, and so they advertise, and Lady Caroline (Mimi West) and Mrs. Fisher (Lynne D. Bronson) answer their ad, each for her own reasons.
The set, designed by C. Michael Perry, consisted of table and chairs that most of the action centered around. Although simple, it supported the action, and with such a small stage and so many actors, anything more would have seemed overwhelming. To further give a sense of setting, Impressionistic paintings were projected behind the actors. Although I loved the sense of life and space this gave, I also felt it was sometimes disjointed stylistically, as the slides were pulled from many different sources.
Rose starts out her journey as a woman driven to hide her pain with duty and charitable works for the poor. Her relationship with her husband, played by Rulon Galloway, is strained and unhappy. Lake effectively uses her clear and vibrant voice to take us inside her character’s outer shell. She particularly stood out in her song “All For Beauty.” Galloway comes in on the end verse of this song, and he likewise gave a moving performance. I did find them a somewhat mismatched pair, however. There was a large age difference, and I found it hard to see what drew them together in the first place. Galloway’s character was a bit bumbling and there are hints that he is a bit of a philanderer. And I never felt that he redeemed himself or changed my opinion of him.
The other married couple in the show is Lotty and Mellersh (Ken Hall). Kirk plays Lotty with an energy that is infectious. She is tired of being a slave to her husband and longs for an escape. She is the one who drives all the action forward and ignites the changes in all the women. Kirk burns with conviction and certainty and is simply a delight to watch. Although Kirk sings with less power than the rest of the cast, her soft and gentle voice works for her character. One of my favorite songs is her duet “Just Think” with Rose in the beginning. The music imitates the rippling water, and it took me away to the ocean. Another favorite duet was “The Journey.” Lake and Kirk bounce in time to the music while sitting on their luggage to simulate the movement of a train while talking (singing) over their relationships. Brilliant piece of direction and a good piece of character development.
Lotty’s husband, played by Hall, has one of my favorite songs in the show, which is altogether too short. It reminds me a bit of “Hymn to Him” from My Fair Lady in tone—a song that shows a very limited point of view and is ripe with sexism, but in a way that the audience knows how very misguided the singer is being. It’s a very clever song, perfectly illustrating Mellersh’s character and I wanted more! Hall sang it with the perfect attitude of a selfish, unthinking husband. He later manages to transform himself, while still keeping the essence of his original character.
This is something I was quite impressed with throughout the production, and I praise director Elizabeth Hansen for. It’s not easy to have nearly every one of the characters go through that much of a transformation while not having them seem too different to have it out of bounds for the character. As the writer and the director, Hansen hit this balance well.
Bronson brought a warmth to Mrs. Fisher that made me adore her. She begins the show as a grumpy older woman who is afraid she is useless and has nothing to offer. Bronson brought a delightful sense of humor to her character and an unexpected warmth, especially with the use of her rich voice. I did think that perhaps her character was the least consistent as far as the script—we are told she wants to sit and remember, but then it’s implied that she’s never been loved by anyone. So what does she want to remember? There are several other inconsistencies with her character in the script that I found bothersome, but Bronson overcomes these.
West brings Lady Caroline to life—and she sparkles with a hard light. Caroline is jaded, spoiled, heartbroken and directionless. West manages to be spoiled without being unsympathetic, and snobbish without seeming rude.
Jubal Joslyn, who plays Briggs, the owner of the castle, has possibly one of the best male voices I’ve heard in quite some time. When he sings “Old Wisteria Tree” about a tree planted in the garden of the castle by his grandfather for his grandmother. He’s looking off into the corner of the theater and I swear I kept expecting to see that when I glanced over.
The two Italian servants, Francesca (Dawn Veree) and Domenico (Dane Allred), managed to seem Italian without descending into stereotypes. They were also responsible for changing the set, and did it quickly and effectively.
I very much enjoyed the music for this show. I found “I Wish,” “Show Me the View” and “All for Beauty” particularly moving and beautiful. I did sometimes find myself wishing for songs that were a little different in tone, which is why I think I enjoyed “A Solicitors Wife” so very much. “She’s Blushing” also took us a bit out of the slower paced, serious songs (Bronson was a doll in this song!). “Francesca’s Lament” also took us out of the slower pace; although “Francesca’s Lament” seemed a bit out of place to me, since it’s the first we hear the cook speak any English, and I felt it broke up the flow of the narrative slightly. Another strong point was the way the music interacted with the movement on stage. One of my favorite examples was when Lotty slams her hands down on the table and the accompanist (Ronnie L. Bishop, who did a beautiful job) slams her hands down on the piano at the exact right moment.
Hansen’s book was quite good too. There were so many unexpectedly funny moments in a show that could have been dowdy and slow (the humor was also owing to the solid acting and Hansen’s direction). The pacing was well done and the dialogue was natural.
Overall, I felt this was a solid, solid show and certainly worth seeing. Grab a friend and go celebrate the power of friendship and love.
Provo Covey Center for the Arts
Utah Lyric Opera
Enchanted April A Musical
Written by Elizabeth Hansen
Music by C. Michael Perry
Covey Center for the Arst, Brinton Theater, 425 W Center Street, Provo, UT 84601
April 11-13, 18-20, 25-27, May 3-4, 2013
7:30 PM; 2 PM matinee on May 4
$12.00 Ticket Office and Information: 801-852-7007