Saturday, December 2, 2023

"All About Jane: The Eras of Austen" by Buzz Music Theater at The Hive Collaborative

There's a new theater space in town, and it's hosting its first theatrical event this weekend. But The Hive Collaborative (in the space formerly known as Dreamland Arts in St. Paul's Hamline-Midway neighborhood) has plans to be more than just a theater space. New owners Laura Rudolph Morris and Eric Morris want it to be a community hub, a place for theater as well as classes, celebrations, game nights, and even sound baths. I interviewed the couple on episode 2.10 of "Twin Cities Theater Chat" (listen here or wherever you get your podcasts, and get a discount code for the show), and their excitement for and passion about this project is contagious. They also have a theater company called Buzz Music Theater, which is producing All About Jane: The Eras of Austen, a concept album by local singer-songwriter Monica Livorsi. She's planning to release the album next spring, but this weekend only you can hear her perform it live in the new Hive space, that's been transformed into a cozy Regency Era sitting room. It's a fantastic collection of songs in various modern pop styles, each of which features a heroine from Austen's work - a must see for Jane Austen fans. But quick - only three performances remain!

Jane Austen publishd six novels, and Monica performs each novel as an "era" of Jane (similar to another pop singer-songwriter you may have heard of), plus a 7th era about the writer herself. Don't worry if you're not overly familiar with every book (I'm embarrassed to admit I've only read two of the six, but this show inspired me to purchase the box set and read them all!), Monical introduces each era and gives a brief overview of the book and the characters she's singing about. Each novel gets one or two songs (or three in the case of Pride and Prejudice, because it's Pride and Prejudice), with the style of the song matching the personality of its featured heroine. From the Dashwood sisters' duet "Undone," to Emma Woodhouse's power song "Stand Back," to Lizzie Bennet's angry girl song "Pride" (at Mr. Darcy's first bumbled proposal), to "the party girls of Jane Austen" Kitty and Lydia's "Dance Until the Dawn," it's a fantastic collection of songs with great lyrics and catchy melodies. If you're familiar with Austen's characters you'll recognize them in these songs, but even if you're not, they're still great songs that are relatable, well sung, and fun to listen to.

Monica Livorsi (photo by Emily Garst)
The show is performed in a concert style, with some dramatic moments (direction by Eric Morris). Monica and her three band members (Janessa Iverson on bass and vocals, Matt McIntyre on guitar, and Matt Nielsen on drums) enter the space one at a time to begin the show. She reads a few quotes to introduce each novel, but then she gets casual as she chats with the audience. Her knowledge of and love for these books and characters is evident in how she talks about them, as well as in the songs themselves. Wearing a little black dress, she adds a garment or accessory for each of the eras, taking on the personality of the characters (costume design by Sarah Christenson).

The performance space (which is larger than the usual seating area) is filled with chairs, couches, and tables, the walls draped with gauzy fabric and hung with frames, creating a cozy listening space and adding additional seating to the riser seating on one end. The lighting changes to match the mood of each song. A coffee and tea station at the entrance, with a little something to put in it, and seasonal candles add to the festive atmosphere. The overall effect is of a warm and welcoming space (production design by Eric Morris and Abbee Warmboe, lighting design by Shannon Elliott and Tracy Joe).

Buzz Music Theater lives in the intersection of pop culture and music-theater, and this show is a perfect example of that. It's the kind of show that appeals to fans of pop music, to book lovers, and to traditional theater goers. After talking to Eric and Laura and spending time in the space, I'm very excited to witness and participate in the growth of The Hive Collaborative. It's a really exciting addition to the local theater community, and All About Jane: The Eras of Austen is a fabulous debut. Performances continue through December 4 only, and then check out other upcoming events at the Hive.