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By Sally Torbey

Jane Austen’s Emma is delightful family fare

Uploaded: Dec 24, 2015

There are still tickets available for TheatreWorks' production of Jane Austen's Emma, conveniently staged at Lucie Stern Theatre right here in Palo Alto! The musical wraps up on January 2nd and it is a true delight, wonderful entertainment for all ages for the holiday season. Being a devoted fan of all of Jane Austen’s novels, and having loved the musical Emma, which had its world premiere at TheatreWorks in 2007 at the Mt View Center for the Performing Arts, I have been looking forward to this performance all year, and it exceeded even my high expectations.

About half the cast has returned for this revival, including the actors who play the leads, Emma and Mr. Knightly. We all agreed that Ms. Dobbs, who plays Emma, doesn’t appear to have aged a day in 8 years, but brings an even more appealing depth and warmth to the character of Emma. Mr. Gulan, who plays Mr. Knightly, is even more adorable than the last time around, and his current age seems more consistent with the mature Mr. Knightly’s age. This production is even funnier than I remember. Perhaps it is the smaller venue giving us a more intimate experience with the characters. The sweet and unsophisticated Harriet and the elderly Mr. Woodhouse were side-splittingly funny, but every cast member had us chuckling at some point.

We had the good fortune of seeing some of the cast up close and personal at a post-performance question and answer chat. None of the cast admitted to being devotees of Jane Austen’s books, but when asked how they prepared for this production, all the cast said they read and reread the novel Emma. To take a much beloved 400 page novel written 200 hundred years ago, and condense it into an entertaining two hour musical with a modern sensibility is an amazing feat, but it is perhaps the actors’ preparation to familiarize themselves with the writer’s own words that has best informed their characters. They all seemed to have stepped right out of her book and onto the stage!