Make it ‘Sense’ for a great night of theater

The Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s West Coast premiere of Tony Award-nominee Paul Gordon’s new musical “Sense and Sensibility” drew interest the moment it was announced. Gordon and Chicago Shakespeare Theater founder Barbara Gaines, who directed the play at The Old Globe, made a few changes in the production but had no need to fear bad reviews.

“Sense and Sensibility,” has been around quite a while in several forms. The romance/drama has appealed to thousands, which is a lot to imagine since Jane Austen doubtfully had any clue that her 1811 novel — published under the name “A Lady” — would far outlive her.

Whether one knew the plot of the story or had no clue, they shared the same experience. Except during songs, dialogue and laughter, someone could have slammed a door and the captivated audience wouldn’t have noticed.

The story remains mostly the same. Three siblings have lost their last parent when their father dies. He left son John (David Schlumpf) in charge of carrying out his will. John however, is under the thumb of his wife who demands the sisters get nothing.

Struggling to find new lives, the easiest thing for Dashwood sisters, Marianne (Megan McGinnis), and Elinor (Sharon Rietkerk), to do in the 1800s is to find a man. Elinor sets her eye on Edward Ferrars (joyfully portrayed by Wayne Alan Wilcox.)

We find Marianne totally captivated by the dashing Mr. Willoughby (Peter Saide) who seems to instantly begin to ease her sorrows and convince her he truly cares for her. Of course, it wouldn’t be a drama if that didn’t change. Marianne ends up brokenhearted and ill. It’s all Elinor can do to keep her alive while also fretting over her own situation. Could the reserved Col. Brandon (Sean Allan Krill) possibly come to the aid of these women?

The cast of the show, also including Paula Scrofano (Mrs. Jennings), Brian Ray Norris (Lord Middleton) and Emily Berman (Lucy Steele, who provides laugh after laugh) are splendid, each totally filling the role of their characters. Aided by great direction by Gaines, Susan E. Mickey’s wonderful costumes and the pleasing songs by Gordon, it made for a wonderful entertaining night at The Globe.

My only disappointment was the set design. There was a big beautiful piece of architecture that went from stage bottom way high, but it never came into play of what it was to represent. A few chairs here and there, a bed and some picture frames lowered from the ceiling that also left some of us blank, took away some of the attachment we might have had to the story and the normal enthrallment by The Globe’s design team.

IF YOU GO: “Sense and Sensibility,” runs through Aug. 14 on the Shiley Stage at The Old Globe Theatre, 1363 Old Globe Way in Balboa Park. Tickets from $39. (619) 234-5623.