“Mansfield Park” is the third play I’ve seen that was written, co-written or musically adapted by Robert Stoddard, and it lives up to the high bar he set for himself with previous shows like “Stone Tables” and “Little Women.” It’s a show with meaningful human themes, a wonderful cast of characters, moral complexity, and fantastic music and lyrics.
The story of “Mansfield Park” centers on the coming of age of Fanny Price as she leaves her own home — a poor, immoderate one — to live with her wealthy aunt and uncle at Mansfield Park. Fanny’s shyness and reserved nature lead to years of struggle trying to belong in her new surroundings and to find acceptance with her new family. Her cousin Edmund is the first to embrace Fanny as a part of the Mansfield Park family. Fanny never forgets this. Over the years, her attachment to Edmund becomes love, but Edmund, like nearly every other young character in the play, is confused in his own attempts to find romance.
Some of the main themes in “Mansfield Park” deal with being true to yourself and your values, being cautious in whom you choose to love, and with the individual’s power to influence others for the better. The script, music and lyrics all do a fantastic job of unfolding these themes. One of the show’s strongest qualities is the seamless way the music connects with narrative, driving plot, character, relationships and these major themes forward with nearly every song.
In contrast to other Jane Austen novels, the novel “Mansfield Park” shows particular depth in the less than noble characters in the cast. This musical adaptation takes that depth to a new level with songs like “Unbidden Feeling” and Maria’s “Set Me Free.” Largely through music, the emotional turmoil of the show’s bitterest characters becomes just as poignant as the struggles of the heroine.
Ultimately, Stoddard and Stoddard’s new musical left me with a deeper appreciation for the original source. I read the novel “Mansfield Park” once before and didn’t like it. After some fresh perspective and some unearthed gems in the musical, I think I’ll find the novel well worth revisiting.
(Post by Stephen Taylor ’15. Photos by Leigh Stoddard.)