All the superlatives for the Guthrie’s world premiere of Emma!! This remarkable new take on Jane Austen’s classic Regency novel is an uproarious delight! From the moment the lights go up, you know you’re in for a treat as the pop music swells and the cast burst into a choreographed dance number. Once the brilliant Amelia Pedlow delivers her first lines as the inimitable Emma Woodhouse, the audience is completely hers to command. That Pedlow shines so brightly is in no small part due to Kate Hamill’s “radical adaptation” of the traditional English society drama. Hamill distills down the essence of story, preserving the spirit of Austen’s masterwork, while bringing it to dizzying new heights. It seems obvious in retrospect that Emma should be a fourth-wall-breaking blend of Lucile Ball and Ferris Bueller–addressing the audience with all the character’s clever wit, charm, and energy honed to a razor’s edge. She’s both the protagonist and narrator of her own story–albeit a rather less-than-omniscient one–but happy to play along. With a story as familiar to us as Emma’s, we know how her efforts at matchmaking will turn out, but as she asks of Mr. Knightley, “Isn’t it fun to watch me try?”
To match Pedlow’s commanding Emma, Guthrie newcomer Samantha Steinmetz delivers an equally spirited foil as Harriet Smith, the unfortunate target of Emma’s machinations. Indeed, Hamill’s loud, boisterous version of Harriet is a well-deserved update to the shrinking wallflower from the novel. For a play where the comedy is so dependent on perfect timing, the entire supporting cast are so well-suited and devoted to their roles, it’s hard to imagine them played by anyone else.
There are countless moments of sheer brilliance in this production that I would do it a great injustice to try to discuss even a fraction of them here, but I will say that I was particularly tickled by the choreography to one particularly funky musical number. There isn’t a moment of this show that will bring anything less than unmitigated delight.
Emma is at The Guthrie in Minneapolis though August 21, 2022. Tickets start at $26.
Photo by Dan Norman