By Sarah Downs
The 1920’s are known for Flappers, le jazz hot and free flowing liquor, but what lay behind the smiles was of course more complex. In the decade following World War I people were alternately dancing as fast as they could, and keeping calm and carrying on. After so much loss they had to move forward, but how? With lyrical melodies, both wistful and sparkling, An Enchanted April captures the spirit of this era of relief, quiet desperation and wonder.
As the musical opens, Lotty Wilkins (Leah Hocking) and Rose Arbuthnot (Christiana Cole) meet by chance at a local woman’s club. Intuitive and chatty, Lotty strikes up a conversation with the more buttoned up Rose, who looks askance at Lotty’s disregard for traditional proprieties. Longing for relief from the endless round of chores that is her daily life Lotty cannot resist sharing with Rose her dream of renting a medieval castle in Italy for the month of April. It is useless to protest. As Lotty says, she sees Rose and herself there. Trading a month of rain in London for a month of sunshine in the country? It’s so crazy, it’s perfect.
The two women have uniquely challenging relationships with their husbands. Lotty, married to the ambitious, dismissive Mellersh (Jim Stanek) has spent many empty years as a “half-way decent solicitor’s wife.” Rose inhabits a lonely world with her emotionally distant husband Frederick (Aaron Phillips). It transpires that Rose and Lotty require two more women to share the cost, leading to the arrival of the dignified Mrs. Fisher (Alma Cuervo) and elegant, world-weary Lady Caroline Dester (Gena Sims), strangers to each other and to Rose and Lotty. Little do they know it, but each woman has stepped across the threshold into a new life.
Hocking is a radiant Lotty, the instigator of change who follows her heart. As her husband Mellersh, Stanek evolves seamlessly and believably with his character. Cole and Phillips as Rose and Frederick sing with heart breaking intensity. Indeed all of the actors are excellent singers, although it is Alma Cuervo’s clarion voice that reaches most easily across the footlights. It is such a pleasure to hear women and men sing in their natural ranges, allowing their voices to move through their registers without stress.
The highlight of William Armstrong‘s set design, encapsulating the story in one arresting image are the varied white umbrellas suspended on the back wall of the stage. Symbol, sculpture and scrim in one, they are an enchantment unto themselves. As umbrellas they call to mind Caillebotte’s painting of Parisians scurrying through the rain, and in Erin Dinnell Bjorn‘s projections of image after vibrant image of sunlit days and colorful flowers rolling across the umbrella’s translucent surfaces, one sees shades of Monet and Dufy.
I can’t believe I’m saying this, but this is a show that could actually stand to be longer. A greater exposition would open the piece up to more varied tonal colors and time signatures. The production is a bit uneven, as some of the melodies begin to blur a bit into each other and the cramped playing space makes for occasional awkward blocking. Nevertheless, An Enchanted April conjures up a certain magic, comprised of vulnerability mixed with the ineffable, irresistible allure of an Italian castle draped in Wisteria vines. Would that we all could spend our Aprils there.
An Enchanted April, based on the novel An Enchanted April, by Elizabeth von Arnim; book and lyrics by Elizabeth Hansen, music & lyrics by C. Michael Perry. Directed by Alice Jankell. With Leah Hocking, Alma Cuervo, Jim Stanek, Christiana Cole, Aaron Phillips, Gena Sims, Peter Reid Lambert and Melody Meeks Putnam.
Andrew Joy (Executive Producer), Richard Danley (Music Director), Ronnie Bishop (Assistant Music Director), Matthew Solomon (Costume Design), William Armstrong (Scenic & Lighting Design), Erin Dinnell Bjorn (Projections Design) and Liz Burdick (Props Mistress). Playing a limited engagement (November 1-16) at Theatre Two at Theatre Row (410 West 42nd Street). For tickets go to Telecharge.com. Run Time: 2 hours with one intermission.