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By Deborah Yaffe, Jul 16 2018 01:00PM

Recently – OK, it was two weeks ago – I found occasion to mention an old journalists’ joke: that three examples of a phenomenon constitute a trend. At the time, I was remarking upon the proliferation of second-order Jane Austen adaptations – adaptations of previous adaptations.*


Today I feel justified in identifying yet another Austen-adaptation trend: the proliferation of jukebox/karaoke shows based on Austen stories. I’m talking about the kind of show that inserts famous pop songs into a newly developed storyline, giving audiences the comfort of the familiar along with the thrill of the new. Think Mamma Mia!, Jersey Boys, or (on the silver screen) Moulin Rouge.


Lately, Jane Austen has been getting the same treatment. The requisite three examples are as follows:


* In 2015, the lyricist and playwright Eric Price created Emma! A Pop Musical, which updates Austen’s story to high school, Clueless-style, and uses famous pop songs by female performers as a score. I’ve never seen it, but apparently it’s beloved by school drama departments.


* Earlier this summer, a Glasgow theater company produced Pride and Prejudice* (*sort of), an all-female, slapstick version of the novel featuring interpolations like Carly Simon’s "You’re So Vain" (sung to Mr. Darcy, of course). Reviews were generally positive, if not rapturous.


* Speaking of Clueless, this fall an off-Broadway company will produce a musical version of the much-loved 1995 movie. The show featues classic ‘90s pop songs with parodic lyrics by Amy Heckerling, who wrote and directed the original. **


Personally, I think the surface of this trend has barely been scratched.


Leonard Cohen’s “So Long, Marianne” begs to be included in a Sense and Sensibility jukebox show – sung by Willoughby in the second act, as he writes his fateful brush-off letter, and then tragically reprised by Marianne and Elinor during the climactic illness scene. (Earlier, Elinor will have promised to keep silent about Lucy Steele’s secret engagement by vowing “My Lips Are Sealed” and nursed her broken heart to a rousing chorus of "I Will Survive.")


It goes on and on: “My Boyfriend’s Back” is obviously Anne Elliot’s big Act One number. . . . Isabella Thorpe and Catherine Morland bop around Bath to the accompaniment of “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”. . . . Maria Rushworth succumbs to the seductive Henry Crawford while singing “Like a Virgin’. . . the possibilities are endless. Paging Baz Luhrmann!



* And I forgot one – the upcoming TV show based on Curtis Sittenfeld’s P&P update Eligible. So, really, that trend is practically a tsunami.


** Devoted blog readers may recall that I already employed the Clueless musical as one of the confirmatory three points in my recent blog about the second-order-Austen-adaptation trend. Some may feel I am cheating by using it as one of the confirmatory three points in a blog about a different Austen trend. What can I say? Trend reporting is an unscrupulous business.


By Deborah Yaffe, Mar 21 2016 01:00PM

The holiday of Purim, which begins on Wednesday night, is the Jewish version of Mardi Gras: to commemorate the Biblical tale of how Queen Esther saved her fellow Jews from annihilation, we dress up in costume, throw carnivals for the kids, bake triangular cookies known as hamentashen, and eat and drink way too much. Especially drink.


You’d think this had nothing to do with Jane Austen, wouldn’t you? But this year, you’d be wrong.


The Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco is throwing a Clueless-themed Purim party on Thursday night. Queen Esther will be costumed as Cher, the Emma-like heroine of Amy Heckerling's classic 1995 film, and, SF Weekly reports, “there will be cocktails, a crafting station where you can make your own pink fluffy feather pen, a lip gloss bar, and access to the current exhibit on San Francisco's powerhouse impresario, Bill Graham and the Rock & Roll Revolution.”


I’m sure I speak for all us east coast Janeites when I say that it is way harsh that this is happening in California. My synagogue’s Purim celebration this year has a Star Wars theme. Which is fine and, you know, probably more fun for the under-8 set, but still: who among us has not wanted to make our own pink fluffy feather pen for Purim?


By Deborah Yaffe, Feb 29 2016 02:00PM

I love Clueless. Doesn’t everyone? Last summer marked the twentieth anniversary of the film’s release, and the milestone inspired a slew of fond reminiscences (for instance, here and here). Amy Heckerling’s 1995 movie, which updates Emma to high school in Beverly Hills, is clever, funny and touching. What’s not to like?


So when I drew up the agenda for the Austen Catch-Up Project, wherein I spend 2016 bridging a few of the gaps in my Janeite knowledge, As If! The Oral History of Clueless as told by Amy Heckerling, the Cast, and the Crew was a natural addition to the list.


As If! is the brainchild of pop culture journalist Jen Chaney (or, as the back cover has it, “acclaimed pop culture journalist Jen Chaney.”) Loving Clueless as I do, I would like to report that the book matches its subject in wit and heart. Alas -- no. I hate to be way harsh, but the book is, if not quite a full-on Monet, then at the very least a big disappointment.

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