The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim, is a “chick book,” no doubt about it. Not only does it revolve around four women, but it speaks to women. It calls to them. It tempts them with beautiful gardens on the Italian sea-coast, and tells them they deserve to spend time there. Time all to themselves, where no one will expect anything of them. No mothering, or cooking, or cleaning. For most women, it fills them with a certain longing for things they will likely never have.
But for a couple of women living in Hampstead, England during the 1920’s, it’s just too much to resist. Lottie and Rose decide to take a leap, and rent the small medieval castle, San Salvatore, for the month of April, with promises of wisteria and sunshine. To cut costs, they allow Mrs. Fisher and Lady Caroline Dester, to join them. Each woman wants “just to be left alone,” but soon find that being alone is actually the last thing they really want.
I have recently read the book, The Enchanted April, and seen the film version multiple times. The special thing about this story is that it takes you to a magical place. The reader or audience member should actually feel a sort of painful longing for a San Salvatore of their own. I have also mentioned in the past my hesitation regarding shows with “The Musical” in the title. Music is only a good thing if it drives the story. So when I attended Enchanted April: The Musical, I was worried that I would be sitting through repetitive choruses and stanzas, or that vital moments of the story would be left out in order to make room for an unnecessary song. Happily, I worried for nothing.
In this case, the music did indeed deliver the story. The songs aren’t big production numbers; they are simply lines being delivered in a different way. The original book is filled with chapters of nothing but the inner thoughts of its characters. Those mental monologues are what the whole thing is about. But it’s difficult to present those thoughts on stage without resorting to “the monologue,” which gets old very fast. However, when these characters sing those thoughts in a casual, lyrical way, it works. They can tell us what they’re thinking, but it doesn’t feel like a monologue. After the show, the writer and director, Elizabeth Hansen (who is also the Director of Utah Lyric Opera) said she wanted to write a show that was beautifully simple and lyrical. With the help of C. Michael Perry, who wrote and directed the music, she succeeded.
The Director also mentioned how important it was that the cast be able to sing. Really sing. And they do. This cast was quite wonderful. Lottie and Rose (Carla Kirk and Jessica Lake) could not have been more perfect. They could sing, but they could also act. They portrayed the characters flawlessly. I was thrilled to see Lottie’s outspoken exuberance next to Rose and her level-headed reserve. Mrs. Fisher and Lady Caroline (Lynne D. Bronson and Mimi West) were also well done. Mrs. Fishers “tingles” were perfection. As for Lady Caroline, I have long felt she would be a difficult character to play. She is written as a perfectly beautiful woman who always sounds angelic and lovely, even if she’s seething inside. The difficulty is that outwardly she is quite flat, but inwardly she is mass of tangled emotions. Hard to portray. Ms. West did an admiral job.
The men (Ken Hall, Rulon Galloway, and Jubal Joslyn) were also wonderful. I was worried that the relationship between Fredrick and Rose would be glossed over, but was thrilled when it was not only well developed, but Rulon Galloway so brilliantly portrayed a man who obviously loves his wife but is afraid to talk to her, who wishes they were closer but has no idea how to bring it about. The tension between them was palpable and heartbreaking. So well done.
The cast is rounded out by Francesca (Dawn Veree) and Domenico (Dane Allred) as the Italian servants. They were well portrayed, and give mini-moments of comedy and fun to the show. Domenico threatened to steal every scene he wandered through. I loved him. They sing a few short songs, which were well done, but considering the length of the show, seemed unnecessary (unless they were giving time for the cast to change costumes, then…carry on.)
The last member of the cast is Ronnie L. Bishop, the pianist. A beautiful performance. A single piano provided the entire accompaniment for the show. Thank-you! Far and away superior to a recorded track.
The costumes (by Becky Matthews) should also be given applause. They were just beautiful. I wanted to take several pieces home with me. The set is simple and successfully uses projected backdrops to change locations. This allowed movement from one place to another without enduring numerous scene changes. Smart.
ENCHANTED APRIL: THE MUSICAL is showing in the Brinton Black Box Theater at the Covey Center in Provo. This is a small theater, with only 3 or four rows of seats on three sides. Tickets are general admission, so get there a few minutes early, though I doubt there are any “bad” seats. It plays April 11-13, 18-20, 25-27, May 3-4, 2013 at 7:30 p.m.; 2 p.m. matinee on May 4th. Tickets are $12 and can be purchased at coveycenter.org.