Articles and Reviews

Reviews for Emma 
Reviewed by Daniel Kelley
October 2, 2007

“Adlen’s music…leans away from contemporary pop, and towards classic Broadway, and light classical music. Despite the conflict that might seem inevitable in the meeting of these two styles, Adlen makes it work…"

Broadway Bridge and Tunnel Test

The Broadway Bridge and Tunnel Test is our personal and highly opinionated Commuter's Guide to New York theater and cultural events, with an emphasis on Broadway and Off-Broadway theatrical productions. The test is simple: is an event worth the always expensive, time consuming, and too often horrendous struggle to commute to New York City from New Jersey, Long Island, Upstate New York or Connecticut? Only truly great or near-great performances and productions may meet this stiff challenge!
Reviewer: James Camner

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Emma, A New Musical by Joel Adlen. New York Musical Theatre Festival at the Acorn Theatre. Starring Leah Horowitz. Being big Jane Austen fans, we could hardly resist the chance to see a musical based on her masterwork Emma. Clearly enjoying one of the best "books" ever for a musical, this work by Joel Adlen is a sheer delight. The story of multiple pairings amusingly at cross purposes is inventively and wittily staged; the diverse personalities are effectively characterized with clever theatrical shorthand, enriched by their musical numbers. Adlen utilizes a chamber orchestra scored in a way that recalls the music of the story's setting, Hummel, Beethoven, Cherubini, Haydn, but in a modern idiom that is worthy of this post-Sondheim era. Standouts include "I Do Not Want," "Jane Fairfax Wrote a Letter," "If I Loved You Less" and "A Country Dance." The performances are winning. Leah Horowitz is a beautiful Emma, singing with a sweet sympathetic tone and acting the part as well as Gwyneth Paltrow did in the film. Great performances also from Jess Lawder as Frank Churchill, Terry Palasz as Miss Bates, John Patrick Moore as Mr. Knightley and particularly Ben Roseberry as a note perfect Mr. Elton. This musical (which could also be called a chamber opera) could play very well in small venues like 2nd Stage, Manhattan Theatre Club, or at Lincoln Center. It deserves such a home and a long, long run. Meanwhile, only three more performances so run to this! Broadway Bridge and Tunnel Test Grade A+

A CurtainUp Omnibus Review

The 2007 New York Musical Theatre Festival

October 5, 2007

Poised, accomplished and lovely would certainly be words that describe the character of Emma Woodhouse. As it happens, they also apply to the new musical named for her. With solid writing, a strong cast and clear direction, Emma nicely transforms Jane Austen into musical comedy.

Unlike the show-within-a-show of Austentatious, this second Austen piece is very faithful to its source material. Young and beautiful Emma (a terrific Leah Horowitz) matchmakes her way into trouble, and learns to grow up as a result of it. Author Joel Adlen (book, music, and score) has created a musical that manages to feel truly period-specific. Though Adlen's book mirrors Austen's in both dialogue and structure, it's the score that is the show's asset. Though not sung through, Emma contains far more music than most musicals, and while not always conventionally tuneful, the music's complexity fits in perfectly with the overall tone.

The production itself is equally elegant. Director Terry Berliner has made sparse sets and low-budget costumes seem ample for the show's purposes. She has made fine use of a large cast, especially the unflappable Horowitz and John Patrick Moore as Mr. Knightley. There are a few performances (Jesse Lawder as Frank Churchill, Tiffany Diane Smith as Jane Fairfax, and Terry Palasz as Miss Bates) that feel more cartoonish and over-the-top than one would expect from the original. Surprisingly enough, however, these roles lend themselves well to that sort of lampoonery and it all works.

The two Austen shows at this year's NYMF couldn't be more different. But happily for those of us who admire Jane Austen's work, both succeed on their own terms.

Book, lyrics and music by Joel Adlen Schedule: Oct 2nd, 8:00 pm, Oct 3rd, 1:00 pm, Oct 4th, 4:30 pm, Oct 4th, 8:00 pm, Oct 5th, 8:00 pm, Oct 7th, 1:00 pm at The Acorn Theater. —Julia Fur

Poise and Prejudice

by Amy Krivohlavek
Emma reviewed October 2, 2007

When staged on stage and screen, the stiff, formal dances that anchor many of Jane Austen's novels pull the characters through elliptical shapes that turn and revolve, threading them through various configurations and couplings. Hands (barely) touch and gazes (intensely) lock, but eventually—in a coy foreshadowing of the ebullient conclusion—everyone ends up with the person to whom he or she is best suited.

For the most part, Emma sticks to the standard Austen formula: the heroine circles around her somewhat inscrutable true love, the requisite pratfalls ensue, yet all is resolved in the end. Joel Alden's musical reinvention of Emma (a selection of this year's New York Musical Theater Festival) is, for the most part, an enormously satisfying success. Briskly directed by Terry Berliner, the first act zips along with a graceful economy that would have made Austen proud, but in the second act, when the knotted conflicts begin to unwind, the action becomes a bit bloated. Still, an exquisite cast—led by the enthralling Leah Horowitz in the title role—makes this latest bit of Austen entertainment a delectable treat, especially for die-hard Austen lovers.

Like many of Austen's best-loved heroines, Emma is a woman ahead of her time: intelligent, witty, and fully capable of "forming her own opinions." What distinguishes the formidable Miss Woodhouse from the rest of the lot is her self-anointed gift for matchmaking. After successfully pairing off her governess, Emma takes the orphaned, lower-class Harriet under her wing. Through lessons in "posture, poise, and patience," she is determined to transform Harriet from country bumpkin into a fitting candidate for "a gentleman's wife." But Emma, so confident in reading the romantic patterns of others, is unable to see how she herself fits into the mix. She advises Harriet to pursue the solicitous clergyman Mr. Elton, while she sets her sights on the rakish Frank Churchill. Of course, things don't turn out as planned, and her old family friend Mr. Knightley hovers in the wings, patiently waiting out Emma's games so that he might make a proposition of his own.

Alden's score is well suited to his Austen endeavor—the songs are charming, if melodically repetitive, and they spool out harmlessly like the revolving wheel on a player-piano. He's written some nice harmonies for the strong-voiced cast, and he gives Horowitz ample opportunity to show off her floaty, silvery high notes in Emma's many solos.

But, without a doubt, the strongest music comes in the more animated characters' songs. As Emma's endearingly dim friend Miss Bates, Terry Palasz turns in a masterful comic performance in the peppy patter song "Jane Fairfax Wrote a Letter" (punctuated by the rhythmic snoring of her elderly mother, Mrs. Bates).

Likewise, the defiant "A Lady Stands Before You" is a spectacular showcase for the fantastic Kara Boyer. She brings such warmth and personality to the ever-agreeable Harriet that you never stop rooting for her from the moment she enters the stage. As the dependable Mr. Knightley, John Patrick Moore gives a refreshingly understated performance. Only Jesse Lawder and Ben Roseberry, as the sought-after Churchill and Elton, push the comedy schtick a bit too far.

It's quite a feat that Horowitz manages to hold her own among the superlative supporting players, and she makes the perfect Emma. A strong, fearless actress, she enacts Emma's cunning schemes with a subtle smirk and an artfully cocked eyebrow.

The spare production features clever props and costumes, including miniature houses that double as trunks. Berliner's direction is appropriately cheeky at times, with winks toward more modern conventions. I did find the anachronism of the men's costumes—jeans with period jackets and boots—a bit distracting.

As the calamities are slowly ironed out, the production loses the crispness of Austen's prose, and certain fuzzy plot points could be more clearly explicated in the last half-hour. Specifically, the secrets behind Churchill's bad reputation and the consequences of Emma's bad behavior toward Miss Bates are never clearly articulated.

Although I've read Austen's novels (and seen many of the films), this was my first time watching a stage adaptation, and there's much to be said for the experience. The live animation allows us to witness the full sting of Emma's grossly entitled behavior—her self-serving social conscience, her rather pompous demeanor, and her attempts to control Harriet ("She's almost the lady she has always wanted to be"). As a musical, Emma makes us privy to the visceral drama of class distinctions that, even through the alchemy of romance, stand firm. In Austen, personalities may clash and still make fine matches, but social spheres and pounds per year too often determine whom you can dance with.