Last time theater director Andrew Barnicle did a show at Santa Barbara’s Ensemble Theatre Company, it was “Christmas at Pemberley,” an imagined sequel to Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice.” Despite doing well with audiences for the time it was staged, the show’s run was cut short by the Thomas Fire. For his return to ETC, the director is continuing in the same spirit as his last production with the venue by helming another Jane Austen adaptation, the musical “Jane Austen’s Emma.”
In an interview with the News-Press, Mr. Barnicle said the show will be very faithful to the source material and follow one guideline from Paul Gordon, who wrote the show’s music and lyrics. That guideline is to make sure the show moves in one fluid motion where there’s always singing or acting occurring onstage. This means that even when one scene dissolves into another, one or the other is still happening. The director commented that even though the show will unquestionably be set in the early 1800s, the same early period as Jane Austen’s novel, the performances will be the production’s driving force rather than pieces of scenery built to impress.
“The focus is going to be on the beautiful singing and acting that I’ve got,” he said.
Though Mr. Barnicle’s first introduction to the musical was a video of the show adapted to a 1960s setting, he wanted to be faithful to the novel. “Jane Austen’s Emma” tells the story of a beautiful young woman, the eponymous Emma, who tries to play matchmaker for her friend Harriet. Prospective husbands include the handsome Mr. Elton, who is secretly in love with Emma. There’s also Robert Martin, who loves Harriet, but Emma doesn’t care for him. One of the show’s many qualities that Mr. Barnicle enjoys is the way in which it manages to pack many of the books events into a short amount of time. For example, the show’s opening number is a musical montage of the novel’s first three chapters, introducing all of the story’s key players.
“It does a really nice job musically and with a minimum of dialogue expressing what’s in the book,” Mr. Barnicle said.
The director’s personal favorite number “Relations” provides a similar function, as the show’s actors through harmony singing deliver exposition about who in the story their characters are related to. Mr. Barnicle spoke fondly of the song’s “intricate harmonies” and syncopation. Describing “Emma” as “one of the most popular stories that young women read,” Mr. Barnicle expects that the musical adaptation’s close relationship with its source material will appeal to audiences and that the central lesson the characters learn throughout the story will resonate. That lesson, as the director put it: “Wealth and class have no bearing on character.”
Previews for Ensemble Theatre Company’s production of “Jane Austen’s Emma” will begin on February 6 and the show opens at 8 p.m. on February 8. The production will run until February 23. Tickets can be purchased online at www.etcsb.org.