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Why Adapt Persuasion for Musical Theatre?

Persuasion A New Musical

By Harold Taw

Persuasion A New Musical
Left to right: Cayman Ilika as Anne Elliot, Nick DeSantis as Sir Walter and Matthew Posner as Captain Wentworth. Photograph by Erik Stuhaug

“She had been forced into prudence in her youth, she learned romance as she grew older—the natural sequel of an unnatural beginning.”
Persuasion, Chapter 4

I’ve encountered three reactions from those who learn we’ve adapted Jane Austen’s final complete novel Persuasion as a musical. The first is delight. This comes from people who hold certain Austen adaptations near and dear to their hearts … usually the 1995 BBC miniseries of Pride and Prejudice starring Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth. The second is indifference. These souls were forced to read Austen in high school and tend to confuse her with Charlotte Brontë. The third is dread. These are Janeites who anticipate a chorus line of naval officers high-kicking atop a painted reproduction of The Cobb in Lyme Regis.

Let me reassure, and perhaps disappoint, everyone: our musical does not feature zombies to attract a teen audience, will not turn Captain Wentworth into an Iraq veteran to show social relevance, and will not relocate Act II from Bath to Havana as an excuse for a climactic mambo. We chose to musicalize Persuasion for a simple and perhaps naïve reason. We believe that if any art form can be true both to the novel’s wit and to its aching melancholy, it is musical theatre … not the musical theatre of spectacle but of emotional immediacy and intimacy.

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