Arizona Theatre Company’s first production of 2013 takes audiences back to 18th century England with a lavish musical adaption of Jane Austen’s “Emma” with an ensemble featuring four ASU students.
The musical follows the life of a privileged young woman, Emma Woodhouse, as she attempts to play matchmaker for her friends. Unfortunately, Emma is not as good at matchmaking as she believes. Her misguided attempts at finding others love, along with her complete disregard for her own heart, leads to a series of comic complications.
Four ASU graduate students gained their roles through a highly selective internship. This marks the first ATC production to include ASU students as part of a partnership between ATC and the Herberger Institute School of Theatre and Film.
Jeremy Gillett, one of the ASU graduate students in the ensemble, described ATC as a “representative for new works that is dedicated to developing actors as artists.”
Meg Sullivan, another one of the graduate students performing in the ensemble, had already been a big fan of “Emma” before auditioning and also held a high respect for Stephen Wrentmore, associate artistic director. Wrentmore runs the show along with artistic director, David Ira Goldstein.
As her first production with ATC, Sullivan explained that the process for the students was unique.
“It was a very unusual way to learn a show. We traveled to Tucson a few times in December to watch their show,” Sullivan said. “We followed the other ensemble are as they set the show and furiously took notes.”
Tony Award-nominated composer Paul Gordon brings one of Austen’s classic novels to life on stage with his script, music and lyrics. Gordon has transformed the slightly serious novel into a lighter-hearted comedy without ruining the realistic style for which Austen is known.
Emma begins the musical singing “I Control the World,” and though she has many faults, Emma proves to be a strong heroine, as she truly controls her home, community and marital status — a rare feat for women in traditional 18th century England.
While Emma is one of Austen’s most stubborn characters, Gordon’s clever use of sarcasm and frequent omission of the “fourth wall” enhances the irony of Emma’s thoughts and actions, allowing the audience to laugh where they may have otherwise grown annoyed.
Emma’s lively character is also due to the casting of the leading lady. Anneliese van der Pol, best known for her roles as Chelsea on the Disney Channel show “That’s So Raven” and Belle in the Broadway production of Beauty and the Beast, stars as the titular character, Emma Woodhouse.
Van der Pol portrays Emma beautifully with her powerful soprano voice and enthusiastic personality as she frequently breaks the fourth wall and talks to the audience or lightens the mood with her humorous facial expressions.
Arizona Theatre Company is currently celebrating its 46th year as the one of the principal professional theater companies in the state.
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