EMMA – Written by Kate Hamill (Based on the novel by Jane Austen); Directed by Meredith McDonough. Produced by the Denver Center Theatre Company (14th and Champa, Denver) through May 5. Tickets available at 303-894-4100 or DenverCenter.org. 

When I think of this delightful production, the words “spritely” and “whimsical” come to mind. There is such a lightness, such an honesty about it. Amelia Pedlow playing Emma Woodhouse is a force of nature to be reckoned with. She flits, she dances, she berates the audience, she flirts, she is a ball of energy all over the stage and in everyone’s face. As an Emma Stone look-alike, she has an animated face and nature that seems totally at home on the stage. She’s having a long conversation with the audience, explaining, cajoling, blaming us for her mistakes, and allowing us to rejoice at her triumphs. We go along for the story step by step with her. 

Her co-workers along this journey enter into the frivolity wholeheartedly, sometimes playing multiple roles, sometimes absorbing Emma’s wrath or dictates, but along for the ride, no matter what. Annie Barbour is the dreaded Jane Fairfax (to be said with disdain in your voice), Emma’s sometime rivel for the affection of the man she doesn’t even meet until later in the show, Frank Churchill (Marco Robinson). Everyone has raved about this superman and how he was bound to fall in love with her so much that she couldn’t understand why she wasn’t immediately attracted to him. But by this time, even the audience has figured out Emma’s problem. It has to do with her “old” friend, George Knightley, the patient and handsome Carman Lacivita. 

Emma is an educated and thoughtful woman, bored to death with the sedentary life she is forced to live as a born and bred member of the upper class. She gets into matchmaking as a side hustle and soon realizes that she’s very good at it. Her first outing was a successful matching of her former tutor (Joey Parsons) and a local widower. However, it isn’t hard to believe that the two would have gotten together with or without Emma’s assistance. Her success with her first experiment leads her to take on a new project with Harriet Smith, a girl from the local school who is almost catatonic in her shyness. Emma discourages a match with someone she considers lowly and pushes her toward a match with a man everyone knows is unsuitable for her. But in the process, she bolsters Harriet’s confidence to the point that she ultimately stands up for herself and determines her own path. Samantha Steinmetz’ transformation from bumbling terrified pupil to confident and determined young lady is a miracle to behold. Watching Emma work her wiles and Harriet responding to this new world was fun beyond words. 

The whole evening is just a delight. Using modern music and dance moves in the transitions and as wedding music immediately determines our mindset toward fun. As always, the sets are magnificent and move into place silently and smoothly. While the costumes reflect a Regency air, most of them could also be worn on the red carpet today. Costume changes are carried off on-stage with an almost unseen gracefulness. 

Emma learns a valuable lesson in humility along the way with the audience tracking right with her. We all know how this is going to end; Emma even questions the audience with “You think you know where this is going, don’t you?” But it’s so much fun getting there. You don’t need to know the novel to enjoy the frolic; Don’t be a snob. Jane Austen is the Nora Roberts of her day. 

A WOW factor of 9!! 

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