Austen's pride

Area duo's musical revisits "Pride and Prejudice" in a new way



Amanda Jacobs

Kate Melton

The Gershwins. Rodgers and Hammerstein. Kander and Ebb. These are just a few of the famous partnerships that made their mark on American musical theater. Well, move over George and Ira, because there is another team ready to see their names on The Great White Way.  

Lindsay Warren Baker and Amanda Jacobs are two musicians/playwrights with connections to the Flower City, and their partnership began almost twenty years ago. The pair have written several musicals and song cycles, including—notably—a musical based on a little story by Jane Austen. The regional premiere of Austen’s Pride: A New Musical of Pride and Prejudice lands at Nazareth College’s Callahan Theatre from July 13 to 24. It is presented as part of the Finger Lakes Musical Theatre Festival, the largest producing professional musical theater festivals in the state outside of New York City. The festival is produced in conjunction with Merry-Go-Round Playhouse Inc., headquartered in Auburn.

Pride and Prejudice is the most beautiful story I have ever heard, and it’s worth telling again and again,” says Jacobs, a Georgia native and classically trained pianist who studied at Nazareth College and the Eastman School of Music. Jacobs and Baker met in 1997 while Baker was still in college and Jacobs was hired as music director at her church in Batavia.

“I remember talking to my mom on the phone, and she said, ‘we have this new music director, and I think you would really hit it off,’” says Baker, who was earning a degree in music education from St. Olaf College in Minnesota at the time. “We met briefly when I was home in Rochester on break and that summer we started collaborating on Amanda’s musical-in-progress, Daniel.” Based on the Biblical story of Daniel but set in the 1920s, Daniel was just the beginning of a beautiful friendship. In 2000, the women had the idea to make a musical of Pride and Prejudice. Since the story is in the public domain, the playwrights were able to weave a new musical tale of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy without having to go through any red tape to secure rights to the story.

“We tried to write without much success, until we traveled to England in 2003, visiting all the places mentioned in the novel,” says Jacobs. “When we got to Jane Austen’s cottage in Chawton, that’s when she became the vehicle we would use to tell the story. It’s through her eyes and the context of her own creative process.”

Austen’s Pride unfolds as Austen revisits a story she had previously written and transforms it into what we know as Pride and Prejudice, facing her own demons in the process. While not intended to be a musical biography, the playwrights tapped into the Jane Austen Society of North America for valuable resources.

“We learned how to make smart and creative artistic choices,” says Baker. “We haven’t changed the story of Pride and Prejudice; we are just putting our own spin on it.” 

While you may remember hearing about an Austen’s Pride production in the Rochester area several years ago, the show has gone through multiple rewrites, and this will be the first fully staged (costumes, sets, lighting etc.) production in our area. In the more than ten years since the show earned its sea legs as part of the Eastman School of Music Opera Workshop, the playwrights have formed connections with producers that want to see the show to Broadway. In 2011, Austen’s Pride was a top winner at The New York Musical Festival in New York City, a leading event for new musicals. That performance also marked the first collaboration with NYC based director Igor Goldin, who has become an influential voice in the continuing development of the musical.

“I’ve always been drawn to Jane Austen, mostly through film, but what drew me into this was the nontraditional way of telling the story as filtered through the eyes of Jane Austen as she struggles to rewrite a novel she had written years earlier,” says Goldin. “I’ve built a rapport with the playwrights. I give notes via question, things like ‘What was your intention here, and how does it match the novel?’ It has opened the door to conversations that might lead us down a different path.”

Baker and Jacobs agree that they have found the third leg of the creative tripod in Goldin.

“The show really took on maturity when we started to work with him,” says Jacobs. “He has such broad critical skills and an amazing ability to analyze scripts.”

While the playwrights aren’t ready to say what’s next for Austen’s Pride beyond July, it’s clear that the future is bright.

“Our producers have plans in motion,” says Jacobs. “We believe in the show so much and are glad to have the opportunity to bring it to the town where it was created and to share it with the people who support us and the work.” 

 

Michelle Shippers is a Rochester-area freelance writer and theater lover. 

 

If you go:

Austen’s Pride: A New Musical of Pride and Prejudice 

Callahan Theater at Nazareth College Arts Center (4245 East Ave., Rochester)

July 13–24

$$: $52–$62, special pricing for students and seniors

Tickets available by calling (315) 255-1785 or (800) 457-8897, or online at
FingerLakesMTF.com. 

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