Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Los Angeles

EmmaChance Theater
Review by Bill Eadie


Mandy Foster
Photo by Doug Catiller, True Image Studio
It's December, and theatres have broken out their holiday fare. Orange County's Chance Theater goes against the grain to some extent, scheduling what might be called a "literary musical," such as Anne of Green Gables or Little Women, as family fare. This year, Chance is trying Paul Gordon's Emma: The Musical for the holidays. As a comedy about "what fools these mortals be," Emma serves up a feast of light-hearted Jane Austen romanticism.

The story revolves around Emma Woodhouse (Mandy Foster), a self-identified matchmaker in a small village south of London. Emma sets her cap on finding the right mate for her friend, Harriet Smith (Zoya Martin). In doing so, Emma is acutely aware of class and status over what are clear signs of attraction. Comic miscues ensue, and Emma is not only forced to abandon her feeble attempts but also to acknowledge her own romantic attraction to the man who challenges her efforts most.

Yes, Emma is satire, but it's satire with a loving touch. If played too broadly or with the satirical component in the lead, the story can quickly become tedious.

Fortunately, directly Casey Long has staged the production innovatively and with sufficient lightness to make the result enough of a bonbon to satisfy the sweet tooth of holiday theatregoers. And, if you and your family would rather have more traditional fare, Chance has a stage production of A Charlie Brown Christmas running in its other space.

Mr. Long makes his magic on a circular, raked platform backed by projections that establish location (production design is by Masako Tobaru, and the projection design is by Kristin Campbell). For much of the play, he places cast members around the perimeter, so they are visibly included but not part of the immediate action. The cast members on the periphery watch the scene on the platform, though, and most especially, they react to it. This technique contributes to an intimate, ensemble feel that is seconded by Bill Strongin's musical direction and solo piano accompaniment from the 10 o'clock position behind the platform. Mr. Gordon's lush, romantic, score sounds and is performed perfectly well under these conditions.

Ms. Foster may be first among equals as Emma, but there is great uniformity of quality in the thirteen-member cast. Kristofer Buxton as Robert Martin, the man Emma finds to be unsuitable for Harriet's hand, stands out with his sly mastery of the sort of understated performance Mr. Long coaxes from his actors.

Perfect in tone and temperament, Emma makes its own case for holiday enjoyment.

Emma: The Musical, through December 23, 2018, at the Chance Theater, Bette Aitken Theater Arts Center, Cripe Stage, 5522 E. La Palma Ave., Anaheim CA. Performances are Thursdays at 7:30pm; Fridays at 8pm; Saturdays at 3pm and 8pm; Sundays at 3pm. Tickets available by calling 888-455-4212 or by visiting chancetheater.com.

Additional cast members include Sherry Domerego. Jeff Lowe, Glenn Koppel, Shannon Page, Megan McCarthy, Robin Walton, Coleton Ray, Carlene O'Neill, Gavin Cole, and Lulu Mack. Additional creative team includes costume designer Bruce Goodrich and sound designer Ryan Brodkin.




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